“Goal: 1,200 absentee applications,” read a sign hanging in Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign headquarters last month. By the time polls opened at 6 a.m. on Sept. 27, that goal had been surpassed — more than 1,300 applications were turned in and nearly 900 ballots returned. Before the first paper ballot was marked, Finch already had a 420-vote lead over Democratic challenger Mary-Jane Foster on Primary Day, the fruits of a well-organized absentee ballot operation.
“We, the politicians, we will do whatever we can to get that vote,” said Lydia Martinez, an East Side city councilwoman who for years has led the most successful absentee ballot operations in the city. “You can give transportation to people. You can call people to ask if they got their absentee ballot. I do have a record of who votes by absentee every year. I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know who the people are.”
In Bridgeport, a hallmark of Democratic Party politics has been the aggressive use of absentee ballots — so aggressive, in fact, that more than a dozen consent decrees have been signed since 1988 with the State Elections Enforcement Commission stemming from allegations of wrongdoing by party operatives. Nearly all the cases involved a Democrat helping someone apply, vote or submit their absentee ballot.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she’d like to make reforms that could prevent absentee voter fraud. She said the problems could be resolved if Connecticut took advantage of new technology. One area she is considering is keeping electronic copies of voter signatures on file so they could be compared to what appears on the ballot or application.
Additionally, she is proposing a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to explore methods of increasing voter turnout by such practices as early voting, thus eliminating reasons for voting by absentee ballot.