Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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State Realtors Endorse Haskell

The Connecticut Association of Realtors has endorsed Democrat Will Haskell for re-election, the first Democrat to earn the endorsement in the 26th state Senate district in more than a decade.

“Connecticut’s realtors have their fingers on the pulse of our state economy—when markets are looking strong, they’re often the first ones to see it. That’s why I’m so proud to have earned their endorsement after two years of fighting for pro-growth legislation in Hartford,” said Haskell.

Prior to 2020, the CT Realtors had endorsed the Republican candidate in consecutive elections dating back to 2010. In the past several months, Connecticut’s real estate market has seen a pronounced jump in interest and activity, driven in part by the state’s intensive COVID-19 containment policies drawing young families from New York City.

Haskell also secured an endorsement this week from the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, a bipartisan, statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting Connecticut’s environment by making it a priority for elected leaders.

State Says It has Hired a Disinformation Expert

A major reason the system can’t be breached is that it is not centralized, but run by each of Connecticut’s 169 towns, she said. “We’re fairly confident that the towns have secure systems.”

However, Merrill said she is concerned about disinformation campaigns aimed at confusing voters and suppressing the vote.

“Literally, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on these efforts,” she said.

The state will receive $5.4 million in federal funds to enhance the safety of in-person voting in polling places, expand vote at home mail-in voting, and protect the security and integrity of the election and the counting of ballots. 

Merrill said she is using some of the money, which comes from one of the stimulus bills approved by Congress this year, to hire an expert in disinformation campaigns to protect Connecticut voters from foreign attempts to influence their votes.

“We are hoping we will be able to head this off at the pass,” she said.

Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said the office has hired an election information security analyst on a contract basis through the election “to identify mis- and disinformation related to Connecticut elections, reporting and correcting it in real-time, and identifying any other information threats in the planning stage.”

Murphy said the Russians are the most active when it comes to voter disinformation campaigns.

Promoted by Russian media, stories are circulating of the posting on the “dark web” of voter information from Connecticut and a handful of other states.

According to the stories, for each American voter in the database, the following information is available: full name, date of birth, sex, date of registration, home address, zip code, email address, voter ID number, and polling station number.

Merrill said the only information identified in these circulating stories is public information already available. But she said she is concerned that misleading stories like these — stories falsely insinuating there has been a security breach — could keep Connecticut residents from casting a ballot.

“I just want to assure voters we are on top of this,” she said.

During a trip to North Carolina on Wednesday, President Donald Trump suggested that those who vote by mail “then go and vote” in person as well. Intentionally voting twice is illegal.

Today, Trump said he meant that people who vote by mail should follow up by going to a polling place to make sure their vote has been counted, and if not, to then vote again.

Merrill said it would be extremely difficult, because of the town-based electoral system, for any Connecticut voter to castSt a ballot twice.

Lamont: CDC ‘Dead Wrong’ About New COVID Testing Guidelines

Lamont said the state is “making it easy” to test for COVID-19, with 160 testing sites. As of today, the Lamont administration reported that 1,095,949 coronavirus tests had been administered in the state.

The CDC’s new guidelines, posted on the agency’s website this week without a public announcement, eliminated previous advice that everyone exposed to the virus through close contact with an infected individual get tested to find out whether they are positive, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

The CDC has estimated that as many as 40% of those infected with the coronavirus have no symptoms, but they can still spread the disease to other people.

In a conference call with reporters today, Brett Giroir, an assistant Health and Human Services secretary in charge of coronavirus testing, said the changes are not intended to reduce testing. They are instead an effort to avoid testing those who get negative results a few days after exposure and have false confidence that they are not infected.

“A negative test on day two (after being exposed) doesn’t mean you are negative, so what is the value of this?,” Giroir asked. “It doesn’t mean, on day four, you can go visit grandma or day six you can go out without a mask.”

Nevertheless, the new CDC guidelines have caused an uproar among some Democrats, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.

“These changes to testing, made quietly by CDC, are unbelievable and fly in the face of science,” she said in a statement. “The modifications are clearly political. The countries that have been able to control the spread of COVID-19 do not just test those with symptoms.”

Giroir said the change is CDC guidance, but was authorized by the White House’s coronavirus task force, which approved it last week after about a month of debate.

Himes & Officials Visit Local Businesses

“I think there’s a real effort to look at the monopoly power these companies have,” Himes said, among elected officials in Washington, D.C., with questions also under examination regarding tax advantages for such large businesses.

Himes did much more listening than talking, however, though he shared some reflections relating to insights he also heard from Julie Cook, manager of Savannah Bee Company, and Bill Taibe, owner of Don Memo Restaurant — the two other spots he visited.

“We are all adopting to the pandemic because we don’t know when the end is going to be,” said State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, who joined in the tour alongside First Selectman Jim Marpe, State. Sen. Will Haskell, Sal Liccione, District 9 Representative Town Meeting member, and Randy Herbertsen, president of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

“So, any opportunity for people to get together and figure out how to help is appreciated,” he said.

Himes noted that it must be a “strange negotiation” for commercial property owners to work through arrangements with tenants like Taibe, who rents space for his Don Memo eatery at 90 Post Road East, the old town hall.

While he has suffered the pandemic’s impact to his business and its income, property owners also have mortgages and taxes facing them, he said.

“It does them no good if this space goes empty,” Taibe said, who is also looking ahead to cold weather when his 60 outdoor seats are no longer viable and he has to make due with 50% indoor occupancy only, which is around 35 customers.

“I’m really concerned with what’s going to happen a few months from now, what that’s going to look like,” he said.

Taibe, who also owns The Whelk and Kawa Ni in Saugatuck, said overall his business is down 20 to 30%, though he’s been able to bring in more employees since the initial shutdown in March.

“You learned who your essential workers were in a pandemic,” he said.

Taibe said, however, that some employees have chosen to not even come back because of economics.

“They said to me, candidly, ‘I make more money staying home. Why would I want to come back,’” he reported.

Norton, meanwhile, has been surprised to receive so many unemployment claims in her small business, including from people who were only with her a couple of weeks during the holidays.

“I’ve heard that a couple of times,” Himes said, questioning the system at large.

“ I don’t understand why unemployment isn’t simple wage replacement … I don’t quite get why the system isn’t that way,” he said.

Ironically, both Norton and Taibe expressed significant gratitude for the states of their individual businesses, and both shared concerns for others who haven’t had the advantages they enjoy.

“There are some restaurants outside of this area that are doing far worse than we are,” Taibe said, noting the local community has been supportive.

Ironically, Cook said business has picked up considerably in the last couple weeks.

“People seem to be getting a little more courageous about coming, and they’re being safe about coming,” she said, respecting the mask guidelines.

“We really want to stay here,” she said of Westport, noting most of the company’s other 12 stores are throughout the south. “We love this town.”

CT Submits Application to FEMA for Supplemental Disaster Wage Unemployment

“It is important to remember that this is only a temporary backstop. It’s imperative that the Trump administration reach an agreement with Congress on comprehensive legislation that provides stable and long-term funding to supplement weekly unemployment benefits.”

“This program will certainly provide some level of assistance to Connecticut’s weekly filers who, without the federal supplement, receive an average of $269.00 per week,” Connecticut Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said.

The program requires states to establish an entirely new process for claimants to access the FEMA funding. New unemployment claimants and existing state and extended benefits claimants will be required to self-certify that they are eligible under the federal guidelines.

Town Clerk: Absentee Ballots ‘Will Triple Our Workload’

Each absentee ballot will have two envelopes. The outside one “with a serial number identifying the voter as you,” and an internal one with the candidate form to guarantee anonymity.

Strauss said that counting the votes, as well as processing requests for absentee ballots, however, will be easier thanks to bar codes that are easily scanned.

That’s not to say that absentee, mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic will not have it glitches considering what the town saw during the buildup to and aftermath of the Aug. 11 primary.

True, more people voted by mail as opposed to the one polling location Democratic Registrar of Voters Marla Cowden and Republican Registrar of Voters Richard Ruggiano had set up.

For example, 2,726 registered Democrats voted by mail in the primary and only 518 in person, Straus said. For the 4,076 registered Republicans there only a 23% turnout, 965. Of that amount, 549 were absentee and 416 voted in person.

With unaffiliated voters added, Westport has approximately 19,000 potential voters for the November election.

For the August primary, 4,788 applications were requested and mailed out, yet only 3,275 were returned on time.

“About 1,500 people didn’t return their ballots,” Strauss said.

“Electors must be aware that the absentee ballots must be returned to the Town Clerk by the close of polls Nov. 3 by 8 p.m.,” she added, saying that a Nov. 3 postmark along will not qualify the ballot.

The First Selectman’s Office issued the following news release:

Town Clerk Patricia Strauss announced the following information concerning voting at the Nov. 3 election.

This year, an elector can vote either in person at the polls from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, or by mail in (absentee) ballot.

The Secretary of the State (SOTS) will be sending applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters the first two weeks in September.  Completed applications should be delivered to the town clerk’s office as soon as possible, either by dropping off in the black drop box located at the rear entrance of Town Hall or by mailing to Westport Town Clerk, 110 Myrtle Ave, Westport, CT 06880.

Ballots will be issued by the town clerk’s office starting Monday, Oct. 5 by mail or in person by appointment only. 

Beginning Oct. 5, your completed ballot may be dropped off at Town Hall using the Official Ballot Drop Box located at the rear entrance of Town Hall or by mailing to Westport Town Clerk, 110 Myrtle Ave, Westport, CT 06880.

Please note - you do not have to vote by absentee ballot.  The polls will be open on Election Day for in person voting.

More information regarding absentee voting, checking your voter registration, registering to vote, or making changes to your voter registration can be found on our website at http://www.westportct.gov under the 2020 Elections Information page.

If you have already submitted an application to receive a mail in ballot for the Nov. 3 election, please disregard the additional application you will receive from SOTS in September.

Special Hours Set for Absentee Ballot Requests

However, for those eligible voters who wish to vote in person, the polls will be open on Tuesday, Aug. 11 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

All voting will be take place at Bedford Middle School, 88 North Ave.

Please wear Personal Protective Equipment and participate in social distancing, the announcement said.

In addition to the existing qualifications to vote absentee, the Governor’s Executive Order 7QQ allows all electors to vote early due to COVID-19.

Ballots may be returned by mail delivery or by using the Official Ballot Drop Box located at the rear entrance of Town Hall.

Applications for absentee ballots can be downloaded from the town website http://www.westportct.gov.

Election Workers Needed for Aug. 11 Primary

Cowden added that all who are interested should first check the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) restrictions and guidelines at cdc.gov/coronavirus

After reading the guidelines and determining one may apply, he or she should contact Cowden at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and include name, address, email and phone number.