Lawmakers push for absentee ballot expansion, insulin price cap in special session

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Christopher Keating, Hartford Courant
·4 min read
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Connecticut legislators are considering a plan for the August and November elections that would provide an additional seven days for the time-consuming process of sorting absentee ballots and verifying that they were mailed in by registered voters.

Under legislation that will be taken up during a special session this week, the ballots would not actually be counted until election day, but officials said the most difficult work would be completed in advance in an attempt to speed the process.

Election officials are expecting a record number of absentee ballots in the August presidential primaries as voters want to avoid contracting COVID-19.

Lawmakers, who could vote on the bill as early as Thursday in the state House of Representatives, heard testimony for 3 1/2 hours Tuesday from advocates who are seeking a “no excuses'' chance to use absentee ballots and others who are concerned about potential voter fraud.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the state’s chief elections official, said local registrars and town clerks are preparing for a huge flood of absentee ballots so that the elderly and other vulnerable citizen do not feel compelled to travel to potentially crowded schools and other voting outlets in a high-stakes presidential election.

“The pressure on election day is tremendous,‘' Merrill said of registrars and town clerks. “We have to be realistic that they are going to need more time. ... People want to know the results instantly. I don’t think you’re going to know the results instantly in November.‘'

While up to 7% of Connecticut voters normally cast ballots by absentee, Merrill said that this year as many as 40% percent could be cast without going to the polls.

Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, a Wolcott Republican, said she is concerned about the special drop boxes that have been bolted to the ground outside town halls in order to collect the ballots.

“In my mind, it’s not secure,‘' Mastrofrancesco said. “People can easily steal mail. They can steal checks. ... I’m very, very concerned that something could happen to those ballots.‘'

But Merrill said the potential sabotage of ballots is “pretty unlikely, frankly.‘'

“They’re probably more secure than a mailbox,‘' Merrill said, adding that damaging ballots is a felony that is punishable by years in prison.

Bob Joondeph, interim executive director of Disability Rights Connecticut, says that all residents should be permitted to vote by mail.

“Rather than limiting absentee ballots to people with only physical disabilities or illness, voters should not have to reveal their disability or health status,‘' Joondeph said.

John Erlingheuser, a former registrar of voters who now serves as the community outreach director for the 600,000-member AARP, said the expansion is key for all voters - not just the elderly - because of the pandemic.

“You’re going to be touching multiple doors because it’s the winter,‘' he said of the November election. “We’re putting everybody at risk - those who are young, those who are older.‘'

Gemeem Davis, vice president of Bridgeport Generation Now, said she has concerns about absentee ballots because of the documented problems during the September 2019 Democratic mayoral primary between incumbent Democrat Joe Ganim and challenger Marilyn Moore.

“We know that political operatives forge applications and signatures,‘' Davis testified. “We’re here to say, Enough is enough. Let’s restore democracy in Bridgeport. ... Across the state, absentee ballot abuse is not an issue, but here in Bridgeport, it is.‘'

Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said that residents should be able to vote “without having to risk our lives.‘' He said that Connecticut should join 34 other states to allow voting by mail.

Sen. Rob Sampson, the ranking Senate Republican on the committee, said, “My position is that the “COVID voting” bill needs to be simple, clear and stick to nothing more than what we all agree to – which is that COVID-19 should be made an acceptable reason for voting by absentee.‘'

Capping insulin prices

In another hearing Tuesday, legislators discussed a plan that would cap insulin prices at $100 per month

Kristen Whitney Daniels, a diabetic, testified Tuesday that she was originally asked to pay $2,400 per month for life-saving insulin.

“That meant no rent, no food, no payment for my car - just insulin,‘' Daniels said of the days before she qualified for a federal government program that sliced her cost to $14 per month.

The 46-page bill is among four bills that could be approved Thursday when the state House of Representatives is expected to vote on the insulin cap, along with improved police accountability and expanded use of absentee ballots for the November general election.

Susan Halpin, a lobbyist who represents insurance companies like Aetna as executive director of the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, said that capping insulin co-pays “really doesn’t do anything to address the underlying cost of the drug itself'' in the marketplace. As such, “that does more harm than good,‘' she said.

She added, “I share your concern wholeheartedly on the cost of insulin.‘'


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