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Connecticut taking steps to boost ballot box security

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(The Center Square) — Connecticut lawmakers are advancing a plan to require round-the-clock video cameras at election drop boxes in response to a mail ballot stuffing scandal in one of the state’s largest cities.

The proposal, which was approved by the state House of Representatives on Friday, requires cities and towns to monitor each of their drop box locations with video for at least 30 days before an election, retain the footage for 12 months and make it available to the public for review.

The bill would also prohibit town clerks from providing more than five absentee ballot applications to any individual 90 days before an election, primary or referendum. It would also ban absentee ballot applications not marked for use in the election cycle to prevent the so-called “banking” of applications.

“This bill represents a robust response to this episode and a bill we believe will ensure that the misconduct alleged here would not happen again,” said state Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, a primary sponsor, remarked.

The move comes in response to alleged illegal ballot box stuffing during Bridgeport’s recent mayoral primary, which exposed flaws in Connecticut’s election laws and prompted bipartisan calls for beefed-up ballot box security.

Incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim won reelection in the February mayoral contest after a challenge from John Gomes, a Democrat who ran on the Independent Party line. Republican David Herz came in a distant third, according to the Secretary of the State’s website.

The election redo was called after several of the mayor’s political supporters were captured on camera allegedly depositing absentee ballots into drop boxes ahead of last September’s Democratic primary.

Under Connecticut law, absentee ballots can only be returned by the registered voter who filled it out, a family member, law enforcement officers, local election officials or an individual caring for an ill or physically disabled person who received an absentee ballot. Violators face up to five years in prison and $5,000 fines.

Republican legislative leaders said the Bridgeport scandal was an example of how mail voting could be manipulated by fraudsters and called for criminal sanctions for ballot stuffing and other election-related fraud. Several House Republicans voted for the proposal but argued the legislation didn’t go far enough to prevent voter fraud.

Conservative media outlets have highlighted Connecticut’s ballot stuffing scandal as an example of the potential for voter fraud in mail-in voting systems.

The legislation is “strongly” supported by Secretary of State Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat, who said it will “close loopholes in existing absentee ballot requirements and provide additional election security measures.”

But the proposal faces pushback from some local officials who argue that it will drive up their costs and impose unnecessary mandates on towns that can’t afford to monitor drop boxes.

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said local governments support the intent of the proposal but said it would “impose considerable costs and administrative burdens on small towns and will prove ineffective if the state is not positioned to effectively enforce election laws.”

“Rather than impose additional unfunded mandates on municipalities, lawmakers should ensure that municipalities receive sufficient funding to effectively implement early voting requirements,” she said in recent testimony. “Providing municipalities with funding to properly staff and administer early voting will have a tremendous impact on election security.”

The measure must be approved by the state Senate before heading to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk for consideration.

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