Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has released a plan for in-person voting for the Aug. 11 primary and Nov. 3 general elections in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic as well as one to mail applications for absentee ballots to every registered voter.
Merrill said, following guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control, the state will work with cities and towns to give them the resources to make in-person voting as safe as it can possibly be, including approving towns' plans for polling place locations and layouts, staffing levels, emergency plans and cleaning and safety materials needed.
Through the Safe Polls grant program, the state will provide resources for cleaning and safety equipment, as well as cleaning the polling places and hiring additional poll workers.
This is a presidential election year and voting percentages tend to be higher when there is a presidential election.
Merrill said the Secretary of the State’s office will also be able to help the towns recruit and train poll workers for Election Day.
It will also conduct a Safe Polls public education campaign.
"No Connecticut voter should ever have to choose between their health and their right to vote," Merrill said in a statement. "This plan is designed to ensure that Connecticut's elections will be safe, secure, and accessible to every eligible voter who wants to participate. Connecticut's elections must go on, so I urge everyone who can to participate."
"Connecticut voters have been making their voices heard in-person, in their local polling places for more than 200 years, and for many voters that won't change in 2020," Merrill said in a statement. "That's why I am committed to working with our partners at the local level to ensure that our polling places are following the most up-to-date health guidelines, and are clean and safe for every voter and every poll worker."
Because the pandemic will make physically appearing in a polling place difficult or impossible for many voters, the Office of the Secretary is contracting with a mail house to send applications for absentee ballots to every registered voter in the state and will include postage paid return for those applications.
The office will cover the costs of both the mailing and return of the absentee ballots.
The Office is also providing towns with the resources necessary to deal with an expected increase in absentee ballots, including providing every town with secure dropboxes and offering a grant program that can be used to defray additional costs and personnel.
"We are facing an illness without precedent in our lifetimes and our election system has to adapt to meet its challenge," Merrill said in a statement. "By making sure that every voter who needs an absentee ballot is able to get one without cost to the voter or to their town, we are safeguarding Connecticut voters' ability to participate in choosing their government. And make no mistake – fear of the coronavirus will guarantee that we will be seeing a higher volume of absentee ballots in 2020 whether we like it or not."
The plan relies on funding from the recently passed CARES Act specifically earmarked to making polling places safer and expanding accessibility to voting by mail, as well as additional appropriations made to protect the cybersecurity and integrity of elections from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).
Merrill said the office is also going to leverage cybersecurity funding to protect elections at both the state and local levels.
She said the Connecticut National Guard will perform a cybersecurity assessment of the election infrastructure of each of Connecticut's 169 towns.
Merrill’s office identified around 20 towns that have had chronic connectivity issues to the state's election infrastructure and will provide network upgrades in those towns.
Though a grant program, the Secretary of the State’s office will pay for 50 percent of the upgrade when towns commit to replacing outdated hardware and software.
The office will also be rolling out a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure statewide to increase security at the backbone of state’s election administration system.
The plan can be found at myvote.ct.gov/2020Plan.