Election problems may prompt changes by lawmakers

Election problems may prompt changes by lawmakers



reporter photo

With problems continuing to surface more than a week after Election Day, Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill said she expects her office and the legislature to pursue remedies over the next year. 

“I’m running out of patience with the kinds of things that happened this election,” she said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, agreed that it’s “likely” the legislature will review some of the issues from this year’s election to find fixes ahead of 2020. 

Those remedies will depend on the issues Merrill and lawmakers want to take up, and will be limited by the state constitution. 

Merrill said she expects that Election Day registration will be a primary focus after New Haven and Mansfield both had long lines this year. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski filed a court challenge after officials in each town swore in groups of voters at once due to lines.

Stefanowski’s challenge became moot after he conceded to Democrat Ned Lamont, but Merrill said she expects the process will be a priority. 

Neither Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, or House Minority Themis Klarides, R-Derby, responded to multiple requests for comment this week. 

Looney said local registrars of voters have significant control over the voting process, including Election Day registration.

Looney said New Haven didn’t provide enough resources for registration on Election Day, causing the long lines. He said the legislature could set guidelines in hopes of forcing towns to be more prepared. 

Sue Larson, Democratic registrar of voters in South Windsor and head of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, said registrars can’t handle high demand if they don’t have the resources. 

New Haven and Mansfield saw increased turnout because of students at Yale University and the University of Connecticut, respectively. 

“There’s no way you can handle a bus load of students coming in at 7:30, 7:45 (p.m.),” she said. 

Reports of long lines in the two towns began to emerge in the afternoon, however, and Merrill said she advised those towns to be ready for higher turnout. New Haven has had issues with long Election Day registration lines in the past. 

EDR wasn’t the only problem. Recounts were ordered Wednesday in the 64th House District and Thursday in the 33rd Senate District — more than a week after the election — because registrars in those districts found mistakes in the initial totals that mandated a recanvassing. 

A state Superior Court judge has been asked to decide the outcome of the 120th House Race after staff at a Stratford polling place gave some voters the wrong ballots. 

Larson said training for registrars, put in place after polling place problems in Hartford in 2014, is getting better and allows election officials to share best practices. 

She also defended Connecticut system, saying the state shouldn’t look to centralize control of elections or switch and have appointed officials run elections. 

“I say look at Florida, and I would ask ‘would you rather have Connecticut or Florida?’ ” she said. 

Merrill said she doesn’t plan to bring back a proposal for professional registrars. 

She’s reviewing complaints to decide what else she might propose, but added a lot of the solutions need to revolve around preparation and a commitment to resources. 

Despite the attention on the problems, Merrill said elections did run smoothly in the vast majority of towns.

“I have to keep pointing out that Connecticut has far fewer problems than most other places,” she said. 

She also said she will renew her push for expanded access to voting, including for early voting and relaxed rules around eligibility for absentee ballots. Those would require constitutional changes. 

Merrill said expanded access, including more than one day of voting, could reduce the stress placed on the system on election day. Expanded use of absentee ballots could also help.

The process for amending the constitution requires a referendum during a statewide election. That can’t happen until 2020 at the earliest.  

msavino@record-journal.com

203-317-2266

Twitter: @reporter_savino


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