Local election workers on Wednesday were still counting a record number of absentee ballots from Tuesday’s primary, with the outcome of numerous races across Connecticut still undecided — including the political fates of some incumbent state legislators and Republican congressional candidates in two districts.
While the top Republican in the state Senate on Wednesday called on Attorney General William Tong to investigate issues raised by town clerks and voters about the absentee ballot system, which was expanded because of the coronavirus pandemic, a spokesperson for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said there were ultimately no major issues with the primary and things ran relatively smoothly.
“I think this was an historic success,” said Gabe Rosenberg, noting how Connecticut changed on May 20 from a system where few people voted by absentee ballot to one where tens of thousands did so. He noted this happened during a pandemic and the aftermath of a tropical storm and large numbers of power outages.
A handful of incumbent state legislators faced inter-party challenges on Tuesday. Democratic state Rep. Bobby Gibson, who represents Bloomfield and part of Windsor, survived a challenge from Danielle Wong. In the 5th District House, which includes Hartford and part of Windsor, Democratic state Rep. Brandon McGee’s challenger, Craig Stallings, conceded the race. The Associated Press has not yet called a winner in that race.
Three Bridgeport legislators — state Sen. Marilyn Moore, Rep. Antonio Felipe and Rep. Charlie Stallworth — also faced challenges. Those races have also not been called yet by the AP.
Meanwhile, it also remained unclear who won the GOP primaries in the 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts. Early results showed a close race in the 2nd District, where the endorsed candidate, Tom Gilmer of Madison, withdrew on Tuesday following an assault arrest. He faced Justin Anderson of East Haddam. In the 1st District, Mary Fay of West Hartford, the endorsed candidate, was leading James Griffin of Bristol.
Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden easily won their respective Republican and Democratic presidential primaries, the final ones of the 2020 presidential election season.
Rosenberg said the delayed outcomes in some races was because of the large volume of ballots. Election workers couldn’t begin counting the absentee ballots that arrived on Tuesday, including those placed in special new drop boxes, until after polls closed at 8 p.m. to make sure people didn’t try to vote by absentee and in person. They were allowed to begin counting ballots that had arrived earlier on Tuesday morning.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, has said there were about 300,000 requests for absentee ballots for the primary — about 10 times the highest number of requests for absentee ballots for any election in Connecticut. Concerns about contracting the virus was recently added to the list of eligible excuses for both the primary and general election.
On Monday, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order that gave election officials until Thursday to wrap up counting the ballots, so long as they were postmarked with Tuesday’s date of Aug. 11. That was to accommodate any delays in the mail because of the storm and other issues. Rosenberg said that’s not expected to be a large number of outstanding ballots.
Lamont said Wednesday he’d like to see some changes made before the November election.
“For November, we’ve got to plan much more ahead of time than we did this last time around. I’ve got to get those absentee ballot applications out earlier. I’ve got to get the ballots out to people earlier and give them more time to get it in so there is no delay and we can count all the ballots on Election Night,” he said. “I don’t want any excuse for not being able to count the ballots on Election Night in November.”
State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, called on Tong to investigate issues raised by town clerks and voters regarding the absentee ballot system managed by a third-party mail house hired by Merrill’s office for the primary. Fasano said the concerns include whether the mail house complied with state law and an executive order governing the distribution of applications and absentee ballots, such as whether timelines for mailings were met and whether they were properly labeled.
Fasano also raised concerns about whether ballots placed in the mail on primary day will ultimately be counted, arguing that the post office does not typically postmark pre-stamped bulk mail envelopes like the ones ballots are placed in.