Filling in the Blanks on Absentee Ballot Voting: What You Need to Know Before Nov. 3

According to the Associated Press, the 2020 general election is expected to be the first general election in U.S. history in which more votes are cast before Election Day than on Election Day. In Connecticut so far, almost 500,000 absentee ballots have been returned (496,625 as of Monday, Oct. 26)–373% more than the 2016 general election, and 551% more than the 2018 midterms.

If you’re still holding on to your absentee ballot and want to make sure it gets counted, you’re not alone–as of that same Monday afternoon, Oct. 26, Wilton’s Town Clerk Lori Kaback reported that of the 5,276 absentee ballots her office had issued for this election, 3,882 (74%) have been returned–meaning that almost 1,400 absentee ballots were still outstanding at the beginning of the week.

For some perspective on just how significant absentee voting will be in Wilton, compare this year’s numbers to previous elections:

  • 2018: 1,134 issued, 1,053 returned
  • 2016 (the last presidential election): 1,472 issued, 1,350 returned

Still Need to Apply for an Absentee Ballot?

If you still want to apply for an absentee ballot, your window of opportunity is closing fast. The deadline to request a ballot by mail is (received by) Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. The application form is available online and can be placed in the ballot box outside the Wilton Police Department.

Getting Your Vote by Absentee Ballot Counted

In order to be counted, absentee ballots must be received by the Town Clerk by Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, by 8:00 p.m.–either by mail or by dropping it in-person at the secure ballot box located in front of the Wilton Police Department. You can find ballot tracking information online. Voters are encouraged to return ballots as early as possible. (Given that there have been delays reported with the US Postal Service, officials recommend dropping absentee ballots in person at the ballot box.)

Wilton’s Town Clerk Office will be open this Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. for absentee ballot voting. Voters should come to the back door of Town Hall between those hours, and follow directions posted there for contacting the office.

In Connecticut, election officials can’t begin counting absentee ballots until Election Day, and the unprecedented response makes counting absentee votes even more complicated. At 6:30 a.m. on Election Day, Wilton’s registrar staff will begin running absentee ballots received before Nov. 3 through a tabulator, working in two shifts through the day until after the polls close.

So, what about absentee ballots dropped in the ballot box (in front of the police station) by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3? Those get counted on Wednesday, Nov. 4, but not until the registrars cross-check them with the voter rolls to see if any ballots were cast by someone who also voted in-person at a precinct on Tuesday. This way they make sure no one votes twice.

Do mail ballots benefit one political party over another?

A study by UCLA researchers earlier this summer suggests that universal vote-by-mail – when ballots are mailed to every voter before an election – doesn’t have a partisan impact on turnout or vote share.

The study (Daniel M. Thompson, Jennifer A. Wu, Jesse Yoder and Andrew B. Hall. PNAS, June 2020) looked at elections in three states between 1996 and 2018. While researchers found that vote-by-mail doesn’t have a partisan effect, it does increase the number of overall people who vote–they estimate by more than 2% of eligible voters.

While Connecticut’s absentee ballot voting in 2020 wasn’t exactly universal vote-by-mail – all voters were mailed only absentee ballot applications, not the ballots themselves – the study can help inform how this year of different voting is viewed, especially as another conclusion the researchers came to was that universal vote-by-mail does increase the number of people overall who mail in their ballots, by an estimated 14% to 19% more.

“As the country debates how to run the 2020 election in the shadow of COVID-19, politicians, journalists, pundits, and citizens will continue to hypothesize about the possible effects of VBM [vote-by-mail] programs on partisan electoral fortunes and participation,” the researchers write. “We hope that our study will provide a useful data point for these conversations.”