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Absentee ballots accounted for more votes for Democrats than Republicans

A voter casts an absentee ballot in a drop box in West Hartford last year.
A voter casts an absentee ballot in a drop box in West Hartford last year.

A year since Donald Trump lost the presidential election, absentee ballot voting remains a partisan phenomenon in Connecticut: Approximately 15% of votes received by Democratic candidates in Tuesday’s municipal elections were via absentee ballot, as opposed to 7% of votes received by Republicans, a CT Mirror analysis of provisional data from the Office of the Secretary of the State shows.

The former president repeatedly called into question the integrity of voting by mail, despite no evidence of widespread fraud. In Connecticut, as in other parts of the country, Democrats embraced absentee ballot voting in greater numbers than Republicans did in the last presidential election and in the primaries leading up to it.

This was the second year that Connecticut allowed all voters to cast absentee ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic, following the passage of a temporary law in May. No-excuse absentee ballot voting cannot be made permanent without amending the state Constitution, and the measure failed to garner a supermajority in the last legislative session in the face of opposition from Republicans.

The legislature will consider the proposal again in 2022, and if it passes with a simple majority, voters will be able to vote on a ballot question on no-excuse absentee voting.

In 2020, the Secretary of the State’s office mailed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in Connecticut but did not do so in the municipal election this year. Some political campaigns took it upon themselves to contact voters about the option.

Kevin Hill, an incumbent Democratic candidate for town council in Wethersfield, said that Democrats in Wethersfield concentrated their efforts on mailing absentee ballot applications to party members to encourage them to vote. Hill said the plan seemed to work, because the town got nearly 1,000 absentee ballots mailed in, and about 70% of them were Democrats.

“When you figure in a municipal election about 7,000 people vote overall — that is a pretty big number that could easily swing a very close race,” Hill said. “There’s definitely been seats decided by less than 500 votes, so it was worth the expense and the effort to get them in the mail.”

The council is currently 6-3 Republican, and Hill was hoping not only to hold onto his seat but to see the Democrats makes some gains with the large edge in absentees.

In general, while Democrats are more likely to reap the rewards of absentee ballot voting, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the lack of an absentee ballot option would depress turnout to their disadvantage, said Greg Huber, professor of political science at Yale University. In other words: Absentee ballot voting doesn’t necessarily increase turnout and confer a partisan advantage, as The Mirror previously reported.

Turnout was low this year at 31%, especially when compared to the presidential election, when nearly 80% of voters cast a ballot. Municipal elections generally see lower turnout than presidential ones, and statewide races in non-presidential races show rates somewhere between. Republicans and Democrats are at odds over the implications of a low-turnout election this year for the gubernatorial race in 2022, The Mirror reported.

Turnout also varied significantly by town, with the highest percentage recorded so far in Guilford at 61%. The shoreline town was the site of a political battle over how historical and contemporary racism is addressed in schools, and all five Republican candidates running in opposition to the alleged teaching of critical race theory — an academic framework that many people first encounter in law school — were defeated.

The stakes in this election also differed significantly by town, as some ballots included candidates for mayoral and first selectman races, while others did not.

Results haven't yet been certified by the Secretary of the State. Towns have until Friday to finish tallying results; the legislature extended the time that towns have to report results from the customary 48 hours to 96 this year and last on account of the pandemic.

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