Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill responded to requests for challengers at some polling places by saying Sunday that “we can all agree that eligible voters should have the right to vote unimpeded."
Merrill, whose office oversees state election laws, has been informing registrars that they have the ability to grant or deny requests for challengers. Challengers, if appointed, are allowed by state law to “challenge the right of any person offering to vote” based on specific grounds.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski’s campaign made the request to registrars in some municipalities. Election officials said Friday that requests seem to be focused on polling places in cities.
Stefanowski is in a five-way race that also features Democrat Ned Lamont, petitioning candidates Oz Griebel and Mark Stewart Greenstein, and Libertarian Rod Hanscomb.
"In Connecticut, we protect voting rights," said Merrill said in a statement. "Although we take great pains to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote, we are also careful to avoid potential voter intimidation.
Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Stefanowski’s campaign, said Friday that challengers are intended to make sure election laws are followed.
“Those people are just there to make sure that people who are eligible to vote can vote,” Marr said Friday.
Merrill said in her statement that eligibility challenges have been “relatively rare” and “should not be made lightly.”
“Frivolous challenges are likely to slow down the voting process, or even cause some eligible voters to stay away,” she also said. “Here in Connecticut, we can all agree that eligible voters should have the right to vote unimpeded.”
Merrill, a Democrat, is also seeking re-election against Republican Susan Chapman.
The challenger must provide evidence under oath to a moderator, who decides whether to uphold the challenge or allow the person to vote.
“Challenges shall not be made indiscriminately and may only be made if the challenger knows, suspects or reasonably believes such a person not to be qualified and entitled to vote,” according to state law.
If the moderator upholds the challenge, a voter can still request to submit provisional and challenge ballots that are then sealed. The validity of the ballot gets revisited if the results of the election are contested.
Merrill said that moderators have sole authority at each polling place and can remove anyone they believe is being disruptive or otherwise interfering with voters’ ability to cast ballots.
She also said that her office has partnered annually with the Connecticut Bar Association to provide nonpartisan, volunteer legal aid to ensure voters’ rights are protected.
Additionally, she said anyone who experiences problems at the polling place should call 866-733-2463 (866-SEEC-INFO), a hotline her office runs jointly with the State Election Enforcement Commission.