Despite criticism of her predecessor for not ensuring cities had an adequate number of ballots on Election Day, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Friday that she is not sure her constitutional office has the authority to dictate ballot purchase numbers to municipalities.
Merrill’s comments came after a panel discussion Friday at the state capitol to identify weaknesses in the state’s election system and to propose potential remedies.
“That’s sort of what we’re trying to figure out here. What are the limits of state versus local authority? There has to be a balance,” Merrill said. “I’m not saying the state should be running local elections but certainly giving more guidance might be appropriate. It might be appropriate to have the authority to say how many ballots you need, but that’s not necessarily an authority I’m looking for.”
All of Friday’s panelists agreed that every district should have adequate ballots so that no voter is turned away, but the panel ended with lingering questions about how many ballots should be ordered, and who will pay for them.
“I think in the short term we’re going to explore this issue of who pays for ballots, how much they cost, and whether there can be a more efficient way to do balloting,” she told reporters.
Joe Camposeo of the Town Clerks Association suggested looking into on-site ballot printing. Camposeo noted that the technology exists to quickly print birth certificates, and he suggested it may be feasible to do the same with ballots.
Of the subjects discussed by the panel, which included town clerks, registrars of voters, and voting rights advocates, there appeared to be some consensus that there is a lack of consistency in election procedures throughout the towns and cities in the state.
Merrill said that was the biggest concern she took from the discussion.
“I would say consistency and standards and setting those standards and figuring out how to make everyone adhere to the same process — it’s really been a very localized process. We have 169 towns perhaps doing it the same way, perhaps not,” she said.
But the new secretary said that rather than legislating changes, inconsistencies might be better addressed by requiring better training for poll workers, who in some districts only exercise their skills one day a year.
“What I’m hearing [about streamlining the process] is a lot about education and training in various sorts for various people and making sure we have the accountability system to make sure people are actually following the process,” she said.
But legislative remedies also were discussed. One recommendation was to amend state law to allow for early voting.
Bilal Sekou, a professor of political science at the University of Hartford, said that early voting in other states has been shown to improve turnout.
“We see in other states where this is being done that the election process is greatly improved and that people actually vote early and they do it in large numbers,” he said.
Another suggestion was to amend the law to allow for no-excuse absentee voting. Currently, in order to qualify for an absentee ballot a voter must demonstrate some reason why he or she would not be able to make it to the polls on Election Day.
State Rep. Betty Boukus, D-Plainville, encouraged the panel to support a bill she already has proposed that would eliminate the need for excuses to obtain an absentee ballot. That bill is now in the Joint Committee on Government Administration and Elections.