Shelton: No surprises as absentee ballot count winds down

A voter arrives to cast her ballot Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 at Shelton Intermediate School in Shelton, Conn.

A voter arrives to cast her ballot Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 at Shelton Intermediate School in Shelton, Conn.

Autumn Driscoll / Autumn Driscoll

SHELTON — The polls closed Tuesday, but final tallies for Republican and Democrat presidential primary races remain unknown as the registrars of voters office continue counting absentee ballots through Thursday.

The outcome at the top of the ballots was no surprise: President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were declared by the Associated Press winners of the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries soon after the polls closed.

But the absentee ballot counts continue, and city leaders have called the process unwieldy at best.

City Clerk Marge Domorod said her office issued 3,250 absentee ballots, but the total returned ballots as of Aug. 10 was only 1,282.

“The absentee ballot procedure, as set by (the Secretary of the State’s office) this year has been the worst our office has ever experienced,” said Domorod.

Domorod said the process was “extremely labor intensive for us and confusing to the general public.” She said in talk with other town and city clerks throughout the state, all agreed that this year’s primary was been a “nightmare.

“We are still entering ballots brought in by our postmaster this morning,” said Domorod on Wednesday. “We have had to enter each and every application sent out by Secretary of (the) State into a state CVRS system, then reenter each ballot that was mailed to us by voters.”

Domorod said her office was notified that the designated mailing house had not completed and mailed 591 ballots for Shelton. Those had to be “processed and mailed by this office at the eleventh hour,” she added.

Before entering the ballots, Domorod said, each envelope had to be opened to determine the voter’s district.

“The process has been extremely labor intensive and time consuming as computer systems were slow due to the activity of all town clerks in the state making entries at the same time,” Domorod said. “Hopefully, (the) November election will not be conducted in the same manner by the Office of the Secretary of (the) State.”

Shelton Republican Registrar of Voters Pete Pavone said placing control of the process back into the hands of the town clerks would be the best course of action to avoid duplicating this year’s primary problems come November.

“There was never a problem in the past when handled that way,” said Pavone.

The city’s preliminary tallies, through Tuesday night, mirrored the state numbers. Trump won among city Republicans with 1,537 votes. Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente earned 73 votes, with 134 undecided.

On the Democrat side, Biden garnered 1,157 votes, followed by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders at 199, Tulsi Gabbard at 18 and 70 undecided.

Pavone reported low turnout, with 12 percent on the Republican side, 7 percent for Democrats. He said there are some 1,600 absentee ballots — all of which need to be counted by Thursday, with some still coming in Wednesday but postmarked before primary day.

Pavone attributed the low turnout to the coronavirus pandemic and the high temperatures, which broke 90 degrees yet again during the day Tuesday. Pavone said all voting took place in the location’s gymnasiums.

Despite a relatively glitch-free day, the question of whether the controversial expanded absentee ballot process could be scaled up for the November election hung over the day, into the night in town halls across Connecticut, he said.

Pavone said the amount of absentee ballots rivals the 2016 presidential election — the one he refers to as “The Big One” — during which the city had 82 percent total turnout.

The lines for voting were short and sweet statewide Tuesday amid strict coronavirus protections, but local registrars of voters still faced the daunting task of counting the nearly 300,000 absentee ballots issued by the state for the nation’s last presidential primary of 2020.

By early evening Tuesday, things seemed to be progressing smoothly. Registrars were able to begin counting absentee ballots when polls opened Tuesday morning, and many towns were able to post preliminary results shortly after polls closed Tuesday night.

Pavone said the office followed all COVID-19 guidelines mandated by the Secretary of the State’s office, and the polling places were designed to maintain social distancing. There were 10 individuals — including one “greeter” to help lead people, as well as a person responsible for sterilizing areas after people left — working the polls at each of the four locations, he said.

“We have spread things out and have Plexiglass shields at each station,” said Pavone, adding that the city had plenty of workers to man all polling places.

Only registered Democrats and Republicans could vote Tuesday, but on Nov. 3, the state’s largest voting bloc — unaffiliated voters — will be thrown into the mix. That, paired with a high stakes presidential election rather than an already determined primary race, made Tuesday’s trial run particularly important for state election officials, pundits said.

Total absentee ballot voting was expected to be in the range of 40 percent to 60 percent, 10 times the typical total. Gov. Ned Lamont on Tuesday ordered municipalities to count any late absentee votes received by mail Wednesday or Thursday as long as they were post-marked Tuesday basing his decision on the disruption last week’s tropical storm had on mail delivery.