Perillo: Legislature must safeguard voting for seniors, those at risk

State Rep. Jason Perillo.

State Rep. Jason Perillo.

Mike Mayko / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — State Rep. Jason Perillo is calling on the legislature to convene a special session next month and safeguard voting procedures, including absentee ballot distribution for seniors and those at risk from the pandemic virus, in the upcoming primaries and November election.

Perillo (R-113) said his position stands in direct contrast to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who wants to distribute absentee ballots to every registered voter in Connecticut.

“The legislature has an obligation, and the authority, to make sure seniors, and those at risk during this health crisis, are afforded the safest opportunities to cast their ballots in both the August primaries and the general election in November,” Perillo said.

“The state’s representative bodies — the House and Senate — need to agree on a plan that safeguards the voting process and the polls without sidestepping the Constitution, as Secretary Merrill’s action has done,” added Perillo.

Perillo and fellow Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Eric Berthel of Watertown, are among a group suing to block Merrill’s plan to allow people potentially at-risk from Covid-19 to use absentee ballots in this November’s election.

The suit filed in Superior Court claims allowing more people to use absentee ballots increases the likelihood of voter fraud and irregularities and that Merrill’s action is both “unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Merrill, in a statement Thursday, warned the suit could “force people with serious health conditions to come to a polling place in person, despite the Centers for Disease Control warning that their health conditions increase their risk of Covid-19.”

“Voters with heart disease, asthma, or who are immuno-compromised because of cancer treatment are at high risk and should have the option of voting safely by absentee ballot,” said Merrill in a statement.

Citing her authority under state law to administer and interpret election laws, Merrill issued a “Memorandum of Opinion” expanding the number of people in Connecticut who could vote by absentee ballot in the coming election.

The memorandum stated that “any registered voter who has a pre-existing illness can vote by absentee ballot because that voter’s illness would prevent them from appearing at their designed polling place safely because of the COVID-19 virus.”

Also included under Merrill’s expanded definition for those eligible to vote via absentee ballot are people who may have been in contact with those infected with the coronavirus, first responders, people caring for someone at higher risk for the virus, and those who feel ill and may have Covid-19.

Perillo says the numbers are “very revealing.” Seniors and those with medical conditions that exacerbate the impact of Covid-19 have been disproportionally, negatively impacted by the virus.

“The legislature must take deliberate, finite steps to keep our most vulnerable folks safe,” Perillo said. “We can and must make voting easier for those individuals who meet this criteria and the legislature must do it now.”

The suit, of which Perillo is a part, claims Merrill is overreaching in an attempt to decide who should be allowed to vote by absentee ballot. The suit also argues that absentee ballots historically have been targets for voting fraud, are subject to getting lost or intercepted, and that they could allow people to influence the person using an absentee ballot.

Merrill, in May, announced Connecticut would send every registered voter in the state a stamped absentee ballot regardless of whether they wanted, needed or asked for one, Perillo said.

Merrill waited until the ninth paragraph of a 14-paragraph press release to get to the crux of the issue — “Democrats’ interest in goosing voter turnout among their base,” according to Perillo.

Perillo said the legislature can narrowly define the absentee ballot issue and easily preserve the voting rights of seniors who may not feel comfortable visiting polling areas, and those with pre-existing medical conditions that put them at risk from contracting the virus.

“Set aside the costs of Secretary Merrill’s plan which are considerable — millions at a time we have no money,” said Perillo. “No one person can change the manner in which we vote. Secretary Merrill’s actions are unconstitutional but the legislature can make it right.”