A federal lawsuit was filed Thursday to make mail-in voting for the November election available to all eligible Connecticut voters during the coronavirus pandemic.
An executive order signed by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said any eligible Democratic or Republican voter will be allowed to use an absentee ballot to vote in the Aug. 11 primary. Applications are being sent this week to 2 million eligible voters. However, because the governor's public health emergency order expires Sept. 9, he cannot mandate that the ballots be made available for the Nov. 3 general election.
Lamont and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, both Democrats, have urged the General Assembly to pass legislation in an upcoming special session to allow all voters to use absentee ballots in the general election. No date has been set.
“No Connecticut voter should be forced to choose between protecting their health and casting their ballot," Merrill said in a written statement. “As I have said for months, the legislature should come in to special session immediately to allow Connecticut voters to cast their votes by absentee ballot in November.”
Thursday's lawsuit marks the third legal action filed in recent weeks regarding mail-in voting in Connecticut. The first two were filed in state courts by critics of the concept including four Republican congressional candidates on the primary ballot who are part of a group called Fight Voter Fraud Inc. They filed a lawsuit Wednesday with the Connecticut Supreme Court, asking the court to order Merrill to stop sending out the voter applications “that misinform the true legal requirements for voting by absentee ballot."
They argue that Merrill's office is encouraging everyone to vote by absentee and therefore risking the integrity of the primary.
This new federal lawsuit was filed by The League of Women Voters of Connecticut, the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, and an individual resident who needs an alternative to voting in-person because her age places her at higher health risks due to COVID-19.
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP State Conference, said the Black community has been hit the hardest in the state by COVID-19 and “will be hit the hardest politically in the state of Connecticut if there are not protections put in place for voting rights in November.”
As of Thursday, there have been 4,326 COVID-associated deaths in Connecticut, an increase of two since Wednesday. The number of reported positive cases increased by 74, to 46,646, while hospitalizations grew by one patient, to 101.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or lead to death.
In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:
NO REOPENING DATE FOR BARS
Lamont said Thursday he plans to make a decision next week about whether to allow bars in Connecticut to reopen later in July. The governor acknowledged he's leaning toward not letting them resume business then, given the increased number of cases in other states where people were allowed to congregate again at bars and nightclubs.
“The bars are going to have to take a pause right now,” he said, during a news conference at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison.
“I'm just looking around the rest of the country,” he said. “I'm learning from that.”
Lamont on Thursday evening announced a change to the required 14-day quarantine for visitors from states with high COVID-19 infection rates. The updated guidance will now permit travelers to also enter Connecticut if they test negative within 72 hours prior to their arrival.
Lamont said he believes the quarantine announced last week by Connecticut, New Jersey and New York has limited the number of out-of-state visitors. He said the number of people making reservations to fly into Connecticut has dropped about 20%. While Lamont said he didn't say that “with any great joy," he contended it's keeping the state safe.
JULY FOURTH WEEKEND
Connecticut's parks, beaches and forests will be open for the holiday weekend, with social distancing measures in place. State officials reminded beachgoers Thursday to keep blankets 15 feet (4.5 meters) from other groups, retain a 6-foot (2-meter) distance or wear a mask when walking around, and bring tablecloths and disinfectant when using picnic tables.
Parking at state parks, which have been open throughout the pandemic, will be limited in order to reduce the number of visitors. The shoreline beach parking lots are expected to fill up early and people are asked not to park on local streets and walk into the park. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has created a website where people can learn which beaches and lakefront swimming areas, both state and municipal, are open to visitors.
Acting Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Deidre Gifford reminded people holding private gatherings on July Fourth that it's safer to meet outdoors instead of indoors. Private indoor gatherings are limited to up to 25 people, while outdoor gatherings are limited to up to 100 people. Mask-wearing and social distancing both encouraged.
Meanwhile, the state on Thursday launched the “Connecticut Respect,” a public service campaign that encourages people to wear masks and practice social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The campaign features UConn Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma and others.