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The official Connecticut ballot collection box sits in front of Stonington Town Hall on Friday. The town is prepared to handle an influx of ballots during the 2020 November election in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — In an effort to provide ample time and ability to process absentee-ballot applications and mail-in ballots, the Stonington Town Clerk’s office will be closed to most in-person business for five weeks.

Town Clerk Cynthia Ladwig and First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said a transition to digital services at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued use of that system, which also includes the ability to access land records, have greatly reduced in-person needs over the course of the year. They said the closure, which will begin on Sept. 28 and continue through Nov. 6, will provide ample ability for town staff to process both applications and ballots for all of the town’s roughly 14,000 registered voters if necessary.

There will be an exception for marriage licenses and death certificates, which will not require appointments during normal business hours.

“We do expect there will be some who want to walk through the door because they just don’t want to mail it or risk leaving it in the drop box,” Ladwig said. “We want to be prepared for the increase in requests and do expect there will be a larger number of people utilizing absentee ballots than ever before."

During the Connecticut primary, in which more than half of all participating voters in the state elected to use the absentee-ballot system to cast their votes, there were a total of 2,834 votes cast in Stonington. Of those, a total of 1,926 absentee ballots were submitted and 1,890 were accepted, according to the town's data.

There were a total of 36 rejected ballots due to various issues, including improper registration, incomplete ballots or other disqualifying factors.

With a 75.6% turnout in Stonington during the 2016 presidential election representing nearly 10,000 voters and exceptions that allow all voters in Connecticut to vote via absentee ballot as a result of the pandemic, the town is anticipating thousands will choose to mail or drop off their ballots rather than head to the polls on Election Day.

“From the calls we’ve been getting as people begin to receive their absentee-ballot applications, people are very interested in this option,” Ladwig said.

Stonington’s polls will be open on Nov. 3 and in-person voting is an option, officials said.

Chesebrough said the transition will not impact most residents, partially because closures as a result of the pandemic shutdown in March had led many to use the town’s expanded online services. Town staff have also stayed on top of service requests and have been able to process nearly everything left in the town’s regular business drop box the same day it was dropped off.

“With the pandemic, staff worked diligently to streamline the process, and we’ve been able to be more efficient in many ways,” Chesebrough said. “As a result, town staff is prepared and ready to manage the anticipated increase in absentee ballots without impacting other services.”

Registered voters in Connecticut will receive absentee ballot applications in the mail, and many in Stonington began receiving the mailings from the Secretary of the State earlier this week. Those who have not received an application may request one from the town clerk’s office.

Once completed, applications may be returned by mail to the Stonington Town Clerk, 152 Elm St., Stonington, 06378, or may be dropped in the designated collection box at the base of the front stairs to town hall. The box will be marked and is separate from a different collection for other town hall business, officials said.

Absentee ballots will be made available beginning Friday, Oct. 2, and must be received before Nov. 3 at 8 p.m. in order to be counted.

To be eligible to apply for an absentee ballot, voters must first be properly registered with the state. For more information on how to register, visit Voters must submit their registration applications prior to 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 to register for the November election.

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