MERIDEN — For Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, this is a good time to revisit Connecticut’s voting process and make it easier for residents to cast ballots.
Voters rejected that idea in a ballot referendum just two years ago, but Merrill said Tuesday that she doesn’t think the result reflects how residents truly feel.
“I believe it failed because nobody knew what it said,” Merrill said about the 2014 ballot question. “It was not worded in a way that made sense to anybody, including myself,” she said during a visit to the Record-Journal office on Tuesday.
Merrill said she received calls from residents who complained that Connecticut should have early voting like other states. The state’s constitution, though, limits voting to the defined Election Day, with absentee ballots going only to those who meet one of four strict qualifying excuses.
She said the state does have a few options, including changing the state law on absentee ballots to make it easier for voters to qualify.
Wholesale changes, though, including no-excuse absentee ballots and early voting, would require an amendment to the state constitution, a process that requires both legislative support and voter approval. A constitutional amendment must get support of a two-thirds majority of each legislative chamber or simple majorities of consecutive sessions of the General Assembly before it can appear on the ballots in an even-year election. Merrill thinks now is the time to change the constitution and examine options.
“I think the public is demanding it, honestly,” she said. “It’s really about the public’s right to vote, and when I see long lines at the poll, I think that’s just robbing people of their right to vote.”
She acknowledged some changes, in particular early voting, can result in additional costs, but noted some states restrict polling for early voting periods to hours of town operation and at facilities that are already open.
Merrill doesn’t think the state needs any other major changes in its election process, though, particularly in the area of registration. She said 200,000 registered online ahead of the deadline, thanks to Facebook, Google, and media and tech companies creating awareness nationwide, while 40,000 residents were registered as part of transactions at the Department of Motor Vehicles since August and slightly more than 30,000 took advantage of Election Day registration.
Meriden was one of a handful of locations that had long lines ahead of the 8 p.m. deadline to register on Election Day, meaning dozens of voters were likely turned away without voting. Merrill said extending the 8 p.m. deadline would affect the ability to tally results statewide, and the more effective solution is better outreach to voters and municipal election officials.
In Meriden in particular, Merrill said election officials didn’t have the staffing levels and resources her office recommended be available for Election Day registration. She said her office recommended, based on past requests for presidential-only ballots, that each town have one employee per 100 potential applications.
“There’s a certain amount of planning involved, and I think that’s the problem here,” Merrill said about Meriden’s long lines.
She also expressed opposition to both online voting and requiring some effort to verify that residents are U.S. citizens when they register.
Merrill said that online voting poses too many security risks, a problem that would erode the public’s trust in the validity of the results.
Merrill also said she and officials with the State Elections Enforcement Commission reviewed complaints going back 20 years alleging non-citizens registering and voting, and found no evidence of problems. She said it is difficult to identify one type of proof all citizens can provide, especially in the absence of a national identification card, making the requirement potentially problematic.