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Keeley v. Ayala

Supreme Court of Connecticut

April 3, 2018

ROBERT T. KEELEY, JR.
v.
SANTA I. AYALA, REGISTRAR OF VOTERS, ET AL.

          Argued December 21, 2017

         Procedural History

         Action seeking, inter alia, a recount of the votes cast in a certain special primary held by the city of Bridgeport and an order directing a new special primary, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield and tried to the court, Bellis, J.; judgment for the plaintiff; thereafter, the defendants filed a reservation of questions of law with the court, Bellis, J., which certified the questions of law and transmitted the reservation to this court; subsequently, the defendants appealed from the trial court's judgment to the Appellate Court, and the appeal was transferred to this court and consolidated with the reservation of questions of law. Affirmed; remanded with direction.

          Peter W. Finch, with whom was Anne Pappas Phillips, for the appellant (plaintiff).

          John P. Bohannon, Jr., deputy city attorney, and James J. Healy, with whom was Edwin J. Maley, Jr., for the appellees (defendants).

          Palmer, McDonald, Robinson, D'Auria, Mullins, Kahn and Vertefeuille, Js.

          OPINION

          PALMER, J.

         This appeal requires us to interpret and apply various statutory provisions that govern the casting of absentee ballots in a municipal primary election. On November 14, 2017, a special primary was held in the city of Bridgeport to nominate candidates from the Democratic party to run in the general election for two seats on the Bridgeport City Council. After the results of the Democratic special primary were determined, the plaintiff, Robert T. Keeley, Jr., a losing candidate, challenged them pursuant to General Statutes § 9-329a, [1]claiming that several improprieties in the absentee balloting process had undermined the reliability of the outcome. Following an expedited hearing, the trial court agreed with three of the plaintiff's claims of impropriety and ordered, as a remedy, that a new special primary be held. The defendants, a winning candidate and certain city officials involved in the election process (city defendants), [2] thereafter filed with the trial court a reservation of four questions of law, [3] which that court certified and transmitted to this court for review pursuant to General Statutes § 9-325.[4] The defendants also filed an appeal raising the same issues as those raised in the certified questions.[5] The defendants claim that the trial court improperly concluded that (1) General Statutes § 9-140b (a)[6] prohibits a party official or candidate from directing a police officer to retrieve absentee ballots from electors and to deliver them to the town clerk, (2) certain absentee ballots were not ‘‘mailed, '' as contemplated by § 9-140b (c), and (3) supervised absentee balloting at a certain nursing home did not comply with the statutory provisions governing that process. The defendants also claim generally that the trial court improperly allocated the burden of proof applicable to the proceedings, effectively placing on them the burden of disproving the plaintiff's allegations. We agree with the defendants' third claim but disagree with their remaining claims. Because the number of absentee ballots invalidated as a result of our disposition of the issues remains sufficiently high to place the reliability of the November 14, 2017 special primary results seriously in doubt, we affirm the judgment of the trial court ordering a new special primary.[7]

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the appeal. An earlier, citywide Democratic primary was held in Bridgeport on September 12, 2017, in which four candidates vied to be the two party nominees from the 133rd district.[8] The two endorsed Democratic party candidates were Michael DeFilippo and the defendant Jeanette Herron, and the two challenging candidates were the plaintiff and Anne Pappas Phillips. At the close of voting on September 12, 2017, the following results were announced and filed with the secretary of the state: DeFilippo, 187 votes; Herron, 170 votes; the plaintiff, 170 votes; and Phillips, 137 votes. Following a recanvass conducted on September 19, 2017, the tie vote between Herron and the plaintiff was broken by one additional vote counted in favor of Herron. On September 26, 2017, the plaintiff commenced this action pursuant to § 9-329a, claiming various improprieties in connection with the counting of the tiebreaking vote.

         In October, 2017, the trial court conducted a two day hearing on the plaintiff's complaint. At that hearing, counsel for the city defendants represented to the court that, citywide, there were eleven hand counted absentee ballots that had not been tallied on the night of the primary, and that one of those ballots had contained the tiebreaking vote for Herron that was added to her total during the recanvass. The defendant Charles D. Clemons, Jr., the Bridgeport town clerk, was questioned regarding an official absentee ballot affidavit that was notarized and purportedly bore his signature and oath. Clemons testified that, in fact, he had not signed the affidavit, and, thereafter, he invoked his constitutional privilege against self-incrimination. The following day, the parties stipulated that the results of the September 12, 2017 Democratic primary for the 133rd district would be vacated and that a new special primary including all four Democratic candidates would be conducted on November 14, 2017. In light of the irregularities that had surfaced in connection with the September 12, 2017 Democratic primary, the court appointed a moderator, Attorney Maximo Medina, to act as a neutral monitor in connection with the November 14, 2017 special primary. In addition, the court retained jurisdiction to resolve any disputes that might arise during the special primary.

         Prior to the November 14, 2017 special primary, one such issue arose. Specifically, on November 13, 2017, Medina became aware that a Bridgeport police officer, Paul Nicola, was retrieving absentee ballots from voters and delivering them to the town clerk's office at the behest of Mario Testa, the chairman of Bridgeport's Democratic Town Committee. Upon learning of this information, the trial court ordered that, if any further ballots were delivered to the town clerk by a police officer, Medina must confirm that the delivery was initiated by the voter through either the Bridgeport Police Department or the town clerk's office. Otherwise, the court's order provided, it would hold an evidentiary hearing to address the legitimacy of any absentee ballots lacking Medina's confirmation. The court reserved decision as to whether to conduct such a hearing as to the absentee ballots that already had been delivered by Nicola at Testa's direction on November 13, 2017.

         The special primary was held on November 14, 2017, as ordered. The results of that election were: DeFilippo, 240 votes; Herron, 230 votes; the plaintiff, 212 votes; and Phillips, 168 votes. Following the ballot count, the plaintiff again challenged the special primary results pursuant to § 9-329a, claiming multiple improprieties in the absentee balloting process. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that (1) Nicola's delivery of fourteen absentee ballots to the town clerk at Testa's direction did not comply with § 9-140b, and, as a consequence, those ballots were invalid and should not have been counted, (2) twelve other absentee ballots, which had arrived at town hall lacking postmarks, were not ‘‘mailed'' within the meaning of § 9-140b (c) and, therefore, were invalid and should not have been counted, and (3) normal and customary supervised absentee balloting procedures were not followed at the Northbridge Health Care Center (Northbridge), a nursing home, thereby disenfranchising that facility's residents from voting in the special primary. The plaintiff further claimed that, as a result of the foregoing improprieties, the results of the special primary were placed seriously in doubt, thus requiring that a new special primary be held.

         The trial court conducted an expedited evidentiary hearing on the plaintiff's claims on November 27, 28 and 29, 2017, and, on November 30, 2017, the court issued an oral decision in which it agreed with each of those claims. Although a civil standard of proof applied to the proceedings; see, e.g., Simmons-Cook v. Bridgeport, 285 Conn. 657, 668, 941 A.2d 291 (2008); the court was persuaded ‘‘even beyond a reasonable doubt that there were substantial violations of the law . . . and that, as a result of those violations, the reliability of the result of the special [primary] is seriously in doubt.'' In the court's view, ‘‘[t]he plaintiff . . . far exceeded [his] heavy burden of proof'' in establishing the claimed violations. The court thereafter ordered that a new special primary be conducted to nominate the Democratic candidates for the city council seats in the 133rd district.[9]

         The defendants claim that the trial court improperly resolved each of the plaintiff's claims of absentee balloting impropriety. The defendants also claim generally that the trial court improperly allocated the burden of proof applicable to the proceedings, effectively placing on them the responsibility of disproving the plaintiff's allegations.

         Before turning to the defendants' claims, we briefly summarize the general principles applicable to those claims. Section 9-329a authorizes a court to set aside the results of a primary on the basis of, inter alia, an improper ruling of an election official, [10] and to order that a new primary be held, if the court ‘‘finds that but for the error in the ruling of the election official . . . the result of [the] primary might have been different and [the court] is unable to determine the result of such primary.'' General Statutes § 9-329a (b) (3). Pursuant to this standard, ‘‘the court must be persuaded that (1) there were substantial violations of the requirements of [an applicable] statute . . . and (2) as a result of those violations, the reliability of the result of the election is seriously in doubt. . . . [A]lthough the underlying facts . . . are to be established by a preponderance of the evidence and are subject on appeal to the clearly erroneous standard . . . the ultimate determination of whether, based on those underlying facts, a new election is called for-that is, whether there were substantial violations of the statute that render the reliability of the result of the election seriously in doubt-is a mixed question of fact and law that is subject to plenary review on appeal . . . .'' (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Simmons-Cook v. Bridgeport, supra, 285 Conn. 668. Our review of the trial court's interpretation of the statutes governing absentee ballot voting also is plenary, with reference to General Statutes § 1-2z and, if necessary, additional tools of statutory construction.[11]

         Although § 9-329a allows for the invalidation of election results, we have emphasized that such a measure should not be taken lightly. As ‘‘[w]e previously have recognized . . . under our democratic form of government, an election is the paradigm of the democratic process designed to ascertain and implement the will of the people. . . . [E]lection laws . . . generally vest the primary responsibility for ascertaining [the] intent and will [of the voters] on the election officials . . . . We look, therefore, first and foremost to the election officials to manage the election process so that the will of the people is carried out. . . . Moreover, [t]he delicacy of judicial intrusion into the electoral process . . . strongly suggests caution in undertaking such an intrusion. . . . Finally, we have recognized that voters have a powerful interest in the stability of [an] election because the ordering of a new and different election would result in their election day [disen]franchisement. . . . [This] background counsels strongly that a court should be very cautious before exercising its power under the [statutes governing election contests] to vacate the results of an election and to order a new election.'' (Emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) Simmons-Cook v. Bridgeport, supra, 285 Conn. 667; see also Bortner v. Woodbridge, 250 Conn. 241, 254-57, 736 A.2d 104 (1999) (‘‘[The statutory scheme] authorizes the one unelected branch of government, the judiciary, to dismantle the basic building block of the democratic process, an election. Thus, [t]he delicacy of judicial intrusion into the electoral process . . . strongly suggests caution in undertaking such an intrusion. As we [previously] have indicated, therefore, [the statutory scheme] provides for remedies only under narrowly defined circumstances . . . and for limited types of claims . . . .'' [Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.]).

         Finally, this case concerns various statutes applicable to absentee balloting, which is ‘‘a special type of voting procedure established by the legislature for those otherwise qualified voters who for one or more of the [statutorily] authorized reasons are unable to cast their ballots at the regular polling place.'' Wrinn v. Dunleavy, 186 Conn. 125, 142, 440 A.2d 261 (1982); see also General Statutes § 9-135.[12] ‘‘The right to vote by absentee ballot is a special privilege granted by the legislature, exercis-able only under special and specified conditions to [e]nsure the secrecy of the ballot and the fairness of voting by persons in this class.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Hardin v. Montgomery, 495 S.W.3d 686, 696 (Ky. 2016); see also 26 Am. Jur. 2d 129, Elections § 333 (2014) (‘‘[t]he procedures required by the absentee voting laws serve the purposes of enfranchising qualified voters, preserving ballot secrecy, preventing fraud, and achieving a reasonably prompt determination of election results''). This court previously has recognized ‘‘that there is considerable room for fraud in absentee [ballot] voting and that a failure to comply with the regulatory provisions governing absentee [ballot] voting increases the opportunity for fraud.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Wrinn v. Dunleavy, supra, 142-44. At the same time, ‘‘[i]f there is to be [disen]franchisement, it should be because the legislature has seen fit to require it in the interest of an honest suffrage, and has expressed that requirement in unmistakable language.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 144-45. Guided by the foregoing governing legal principles, we now turn to the issues presented in this case.

         I

         The defendants claim first that the trial court incorrectly concluded that § 9-140b (a) prohibits a party official or candidate from directing a police officer to retrieve absentee ballots from electors and to deliver them to the town clerk. We disagree.

         The trial court made the following factual findings related to this issue. Officer Nicola was on patrol duty during the daytime on November 13, 2017, when he was summoned by another officer and directed to meet with Police Chief Armando J. Perez. Nicola then met face to face with Perez, who gave Nicola a duty order to contact and meet with Testa, the chairman of Bridgeport's Democratic Town Committee, because Testa and the party needed an officer to retrieve absentee ballots. Perez told Nicola that Testa would draw up a list and tell Nicola what needed to be done. Nicola then went to a restaurant run by Testa, where Testa introduced him to DeFilippo, one of the endorsed candidates for the Democratic party. Approximately one-half hour later, DeFilippo provided Nicola with a list of absentee ballots to retrieve.

         Over the course of that day, Nicola traveled throughout Bridgeport to retrieve absentee ballots, with DeFilippo texting him names and addresses along the way. Nicola continued to pick up ballots on November 14, 2017, despite the court's November 13, 2017 order aimed at discouraging that practice. Nicola retrieved absentee ballots without seeking identification from any of the individuals who delivered them to him and, at times, accepted multiple ballots from a single person.[13] Nicola picked up nine absentee ballots on November 13, 2017, and five absentee ballots on November 14, 2017, for a total of fourteen ballots. After Nicola retrieved the absentee ballots, he delivered them in batches to the town clerk's office, where he signed, dated and timed each ballot in the presence of the town clerk.

         The trial court analyzed the language of § 9-140b, governing the return of absentee ballots, and the applicable legislative history, concluding that Nicola's retrieval of ballots at Testa's behest did not comport with the requirements of that statutory provision. The court explained that ‘‘[t]he statute allows an absentee voter to contact the registrar of voters . . . or the police department for police officer pickup of an absentee ballot due to [a] voter's illness or disability. That process allows for the voter who claims an illness or disability to identify [himself or herself] and voluntarily initiate a request for a ballot pickup.'' According to the court, the integrity of an absentee ballot submitted in that manner was ‘‘entirely lacking'' in the present case because Nicola did not know the identities of the people from whom he took ballots, he had, in some cases, taken multiple ballots from a single person, and, in one case, he simply retrieved a ballot from a mailbox. The court also concluded that § 9-140b ‘‘does not allow a candidate to inject [himself or herself] into this aspect of [the] voting process'' and that, in the present case, ‘‘illegal, partisan party interference [had come] into play.'' The court determined that, if voters had contacted Testa or DeFilippo for ballot delivery assistance, [14] they should have been advised to contact either the Democratic registrar of voters or the police department directly to have their ballots retrieved.

         The defendants argue that the trial court incorrectly concluded that § 9-140b precluded Testa and DeFilippo from dispatching Nicola to retrieve absentee ballots from voters. They claim that nothing in the statute bars a third party, including a party official or a candidate, from asking a police officer to contact an absentee voter and to act as that voter's designee for purposes of returning the voter's absentee ballot. In the defendants' view, the plain language of § 9-140b authorizes anyone to request a ballot pickup on an absentee voter's behalf because there is no explicit restriction in that regard.[15]The plaintiff, for his part, claims that the trial court correctly interpreted § 9-140b as requiring an absentee voter, himself or herself, to request that a police officer act as a designee for purposes of returning that voter's absentee ballot and as prohibiting partisan individuals from doing so on a voter's behalf. We agree with the plaintiff.

         The return of absentee ballots, by various authorized methods, is governed by § 9-140b, [16] which provides in relevant part that ‘‘(a) [a]n absentee ballot shall be cast at a primary, election or referendum only if . . . (3) it is returned by a designee of an ill or physically disabled ballot applicant, in person, to [the town] clerk not later than the close of the polls on the day of the election, primary or referendum . . . .'' The term ‘‘designee'' is statutorily defined as ‘‘(1) a person who is caring for the applicant because of the applicant's illness or physical disability, including but not limited to . . . a licensed physician or a registered or practical nurse, (2) a member of the applicant's family, who is designated by an absentee ballot applicant and who consents to such designation, or (3) if no such person consents or is available, then a police officer, registrar of voters, deputy registrar of voters or assistant registrar of voters in the municipality in which the applicant resides.'' General Statutes § 9-140b (b).

         This court previously has held that the requirements of § 9-140b are mandatory. See Wrinn v. Dunleavy, supra, 186 Conn. 145-46 (interpreting predecessor statute). Accordingly, the return of ballots in a manner not substantially in compliance with § 9-140b will result in their invalidation, regardless of whether there is any proof of fraud. Id., 148-49. ‘‘Whether fraud has been committed in the handling of certain absentee ballots is irrelevant to the question of whether there has been substantial compliance with all of the mandatory provisions of the absentee voting law. . . . Had the legislature chosen to do so, it could have enacted a remedial scheme under which ballots would . . . be invalidated [only] upon a showing of fraud or other related irregularity. The legislature has instead enacted a regulatory scheme designed to prevent fraud as far as practicable by mandating the way in which absentee ballots are to be handled. The validity of the ballot, therefore, depends not on whether there has been fraud, but on whether there has been substantial compliance with the mandatory requirements.'' Id., 149; see also Domb-kowski v. Messier, 164 Conn. 204, 209, 319 A.2d 373 (1972) (failure of town clerk to follow mandatory statutory requirements with respect to submission of absentee ballots warranted voiding of those ballots without finding of fraud or wilful misconduct).

         To determine whether § 9-140b permits third parties, in particular, partisan individuals, to direct police officers to act as designees for absentee voters, we begin with the text of that statute and related provisions. Section 9-140b, read as a whole, reflects a clear legislative intent to maintain distance between partisan individuals and the casting and submission of absentee ballots, undoubtedly in recognition of the potential for undue influence, intimidation or fraud in the use of those ballots.[17] That statute expressly provides that, except in certain narrowly defined circumstances, ‘‘[n]o (1) candidate or (2) agent of a candidate, political party or committee . . . shall knowingly be present when an absentee ballot applicant executes an absentee ballot . . . .'' General Statutes § 9-140b (e); see also Gonzalez v. State Elections Enforcement Commission, 145 Conn.App. 458, 471-74, 476, 77 A.3d 790 (candidate violated § 9-140b [e] by accompanying voters while they completed absentee ballots at town clerk's office), cert. denied, 310 Conn. 954, 81 A.3d 1181 (2013). Subsection (d), delineating which persons are authorized to possess absentee ballots, does not include any partisan individuals, and subsection (b) does not include such persons among the list of persons who may act as absentee voters' designees for the purpose of returning ballots. See General Statutes § 9-140b (b) and (d).

         With respect to who may choose a ‘‘designee'' for an absentee voter, the language used in § 9-140b manifests an intent on the part of the legislature that a ‘‘designee'' be a person whom the absentee voter, himself or herself, selects to return his or her ballot. Specifically, that statutory provision indicates that ‘‘a designee of an ill or physically disabled ballot applicant'' may return the ballot in person; (emphasis added) General Statutes § 9-140b (a) (3); and otherwise that ‘‘a designee of a person who applies for an absentee ballot because of illness or physical disability'' may return the ballot by mail. (Emphasis added.) General Statutes § 9-140b (a) (1) (B). The verb ‘‘designate'' is defined as ‘‘[t]o indicate, select, appoint, nominate, or set apart for a purpose or duty . . . .'' Black's Law Dictionary (6th Ed. 1990) p. 447. By combining the term ‘‘designee'' with the phrase ‘‘of an ill or physically disabled ballot applicant, '' or ‘‘of [an ill or physically disabled] person, '' § 9-140b (a) strongly suggests that it is the ballot applicant, and not some third party, who is to select, appoint or nominate an individual, from within the defined universe of qualified persons, to deliver his or her ballot to the town clerk.

         Subsection (b) of § 9-140b, which defines ‘‘designee, '' is somewhat more ambiguous in this regard. Although three classes of designees are described, it is only the second class, namely, family members of an absentee ballot applicant, that the statute expressly qualifies with the phrase ‘‘designated by an absentee ballot applicant . . . .'' General Statutes § 9-140b (b) (2). Looking to the relevant statutory genealogy, however, an earlier version of the provision made clear that, regardless of the category of designee, the absentee voter was to make any such designation. Specifically, General Statutes (Rev. to 1989) § 9-140b (b) provided that, ‘‘[i]n the case of a person who applied for an absentee ballot because of illness or physical disability, the ballot shall only be mailed by the applicant or by any eligible and consenting person designated by the applicant . . . . An applicant may designate for such purposes only one of the following persons: A licensed physician, registered or practical nurse or any other person who is caring for the applicant because of the applicant's illness or physical disability, a member of the applicant's family or, if no such person consents or is available, then a police officer, registrar of voters or deputy registrar of voters in the municipality in which the applicant resides.'' (Emphasis added.)

         When subsection (b)was amended in1989; see Public Acts 1989, No. 89-297, § 4; the bill that included those changes-the language of which is substantially similar to the current version of § 9-140b (b)-was described by legislators variously as ‘‘an omnibus bill for the [s]ecretary of [the] [s]tate's office . . . mak[ing] a number of technical changes in the election law''; 32 S. Proc., Pt. 5, 1989 Sess., p. 1737, remarks of Senator John Atkin; and a ‘‘primarily [noncontroversial] cleanup . . . of certain of the state's election statutes.'' 32 H.R. Proc., Pt. 12, 1989 Sess., p. 4062, remarks of Representative Miles Rapoport. The remaining history accompanying the 1989 legislation contains no indication that lawmakers amended subsection (b) with the intent to change its meaning at all, let alone to permit third-party, partisan individuals to assist absentee voters who seek to cast their ballots by selecting designees to return those ballots. In short, the genealogy of§ 9-140b (b) also supports the trial court's conclusion that it is only absentee voters who may select designees, from within the described classes of persons, to return their ballots for them.[18]

         To the extent that any ambiguity remains, we agree with the trial court that the legislative history accompanying Public Acts 1974, No. 74-312, § 1-which added to General Statutes (Rev. to 1972) § 9-146, as amended by Public Acts 1972, No. 196, § 14, and Public Acts 1973, No. 73-472, § 1, the predecessor to § 9-140b, the language describing permissible designees for absentee ballot returns-makes it abundantly clear that the legislature intended for partisan individuals like Testa and DeFilippo to be excluded from the process. In introducing the legislation in the House of Representatives, its sponsor, Representative M. James Canali, stated that it would remedy ‘‘a very important inequity in our absentee ballot process that exists under the current laws. It will, as much as possible, restrict the partisan party worker from any involvement with the voter after he or she has received his or her ballot, [t]hereby preventing the harassment that currently occurs in many cases today.'' 17 H.R. Proc., Pt. 10, 1974 Sess., p. 4616. Representative Canali explained further: ‘‘[W]e have arrived at a point in time where we must remove the partisan party worker from any involvement in the absentee ballot once an application has been received by the [t]own [c]lerk and the elector has received his or her ballot. The common practice of pursuing the voter and sometimes harassing him to allow the ballot to be picked up [by] party workers has reached the point in many areas of our [s]tate where the inherent privacy [to which] the voter is entitled . . . is being seriously violated. We would be seriously outraged if a party worker brought a voter to a polling place, into the place itself and then sits in the voting booth with him or her and exert[s] pressure for [him or her] to vote one way or another. Moreover, we have stringent laws that prevent this activity. . . . I submit . . . that once an absentee voter receives his . . . absentee ballot, [he is], in fact, in the polling place, and [he is] entitled to the same rights of privacy of action [applicable] . . . should [he] decide to vote in person . . . those rights being to ultimately decide who[m] to vote for, or not [to] vote for, or not [to] vote at all, as is [his] conscience, without anyone exerting any pressure on [him]. . . . [W]e must, once and for all, end the absentee ballot contest that pervades our political process.'' Id., p. 4617.

         In addressing the mechanics of the proposed legislation with respect to the return of an absentee ballot by an ill or disabled elector, Representative Canali explained that such a ballot could be returned by ‘‘an elector himself, or by any person designated by that elector . . . [such as] a physician, a registered or practical nurse, or any other person who is caring for . . . [the] elector because of . . . [the] elector's illness or physical disability, a member of such elector's family, or if no such person exists or is available, then a police officer, a [r]egistrar of [v]oters, or a [d]eputy [r]egistrar of [v]oters, in the municipality in which such an elector resides. That gives it the broadest context of allowing that disabled elector to get [his] ballot mailed without having a party worker involve [himself].'' (Emphasis added.) Id., pp. 4618-19. Finally, in concluding his remarks, Representative Canali stated that the proposed legislation would ‘‘once and for all, as much as possible . . . remove the partisan party worker from all political parties from pursuing those people who have requested absentee ballots for whatever reason and harassing them to either vote the ballot or to turn the ballot over to the party workers.'' Id., p. 4634.

         We glean two clear intentions from the foregoing legislative history. First, it is an absentee voter himself or herself, and not a third party, who must appoint or select a designee, from within the approved categories of persons, to return his or her absentee ballot on the voter's behalf. Second, similar to the mandatory procedures pertaining to in person voters, partisan individuals are required to distance themselves from absentee voters when those voters are in the ...


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