Connecticut lawmakers on Tuesday heard from voters who want to cast their ballots by absentee because they’re afraid of going to the polls in November during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as from those who say they’re more concerned that expanding eligibility might lead to fraud.
Merla Porter a retired teacher from West Haven, whose husband survived a life-threatening bacterial infection last summer, said she’s scared of possibly infecting him with the virus that causes COVID-19 if she has to vote at her polling place.
“Frankly, I absolutely fear what could happen this fall,” Porter told members of the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee during a virtual “listening session” on a bill that would expand eligibility for casting absentee ballots in just the November general election.
“While I feel blessed that we live in Connecticut, where the governor made the decision to close and quarantine, I don’t think this is over. Not here in the United States and not here in Connecticut,” she said. “I need to make a choice that protects my husband. I need to decide whether to vote in a voting booth or by absentee ballot.”
But Eric Belk of Marlborough said lawmakers shouldn’t risk it, arguing that fraud, by its nature, is difficult to detect.
“Vote by mail is a method that works well in theory, but never in practice,” he wrote in written testimony. “Fraud in vote-by-mail not only exists in theory; it is rampant in the real world.”
Meanwhile, a Superior Court judge on Wednesday rejected a lawsuit filed by four Republican candidates who argued it’s illegal to expand the use of the absentee ballots in the upcoming primary. The decision came a day after Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Robinson dismissed it for technical reasons.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote Friday, and the Senate on Tuesday, on a bill that aims to make COVID-19 an eligible excuse for requesting an absentee ballot. Current law restricts when people can vote by absentee ballot, limiting it to excuses such as being out of town on Election Day or being an active member of the military.
Lawmakers are also expected to vote on three other bills, including wide-ranging police reform legislation.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont already signed an executive order expanding eligibility for the upcoming Aug. 11 primary, but his authority is set to expire before Election Day. He is urging lawmakers to pass this legislation.
As of Tuesday, there have been more than 48,000 cases of COVID-19 in Connecticut and 4,406 deaths, the same amount as Monday. The number of hospitalizations climbed by eight to 62 patients.
In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:
Residents from 10 more states with high levels of COVID-19 infections must quarantine for 14 days when they arrive in Connecticut.
Connecticut joined New Jersey and New York in expanding the list of affected states to 31. Alaska, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia and Washington were added to the travel advisory after having seven-day rolling averages of positive tests that exceeded 10% or a number of positive cases that exceeded 10 per 100,000 residents.
MOHEGAN SUN CASES
The general manager of Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville said three employees who have close personal relationships with one another tested positive earlier this month for COVID-19. Jeff Hamilton told The Associated Press on Tuesday that 20 other workers who may have come in contact with the three people have all tested negative.
“We have a lot of team members that are family members,” he said, adding how it appears the first individual became infected somewhere other than the casino, testing positive on July 5. The second person became infected after driving the first individual to the hospital and later infected their roommate, Hamilton said.
Two of the three employees have since returned the work. One employee is expected to return soon, he said.
Meanwhile, Mohegan Sun plans to ask its employees to being using a new contact tracing app by the end of the week that will help identify which workers may have come in contact with a worker who becomes infected. Hamilton said plans were already underway for the app before the worker became infected on July 5.
“It’s just another tool in our toolbox,” he said. Mohegan Sun has already been working with Yale New Haven Health on its contact tracing protocol.
NURSING HOME VISITS
The acting commissioner at the Department of Public Health said her agency is working on a plan to safely loosen visitation restrictions at Connecticut’s nursing homes. During a virtual meeting with state lawmakers on Wednesday, Dr. Deidre Gifford said more is known about COVID-19 since the visitations were stopped in early March to help stop the spread and DPH plans to release guidance on visits soon to the long-term care facilities. Currently outdoor and window visits are allowed.
During Wednesday’s meeting, legislators were told about the emotional toll the ban on indoor visitations has taken on residents, as well as the lack of exercise and communication with the outside world. Gifford said the state is concerned about those things as well.
“We need to strike a balance between protecting people from COVID infections and their mental and emotional well-being,” she said.
The Connecticut Senate on Tuesday adopted rules for the first legislative session during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wearing face masks, the four top Democratic and Republican senators agreed to a series of resolutions that ultimately prohibit access to the state Capitol and Legislative Office Building except for legislators, the governor and lieutenant governor, staff and credentialed members of the media.
Lawmakers will also be allowed to communicate “telephonically” with staff and others during the special session so senators are kept at safer distances during legislative debates, said Senate Majority Leader Robert Duff, D-Norwalk.
The House of Representatives, which is expected to adopt the same rules, is scheduled to meet Friday while the Senate is scheduled to meet on Tuesday to vote on four bills. Besides expanding eligibility for absentee voting in the November election, they would impose wide-ranging policing reforms, cap insulin prices and require insurance coverage for telehealth medical services.