Despite a devastating storm hitting little more than a week before Election Day, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Monday that Connecticut is ready for the election, with all of its polling places powered and voter turnout anticipated to be high.
Merrill, the state’s top election official, said Hurricane Sandy presented significant obstacles for those coordinating the election, but local administrators rose to the occasion.
“They did what they needed to do under difficult circumstances to prepare for this election. So this morning what I’m feeling is mostly thankful,” she said.
While all of the state’s polling places now have electricity, Merrill said flooding and damage caused by the storm forced two towns to relocate polling locations. The Ocean Beach location in New London was flooded and had to be moved to Harbor Elementary School on Montauk Avenue. The Longfellow School polling place in Bridgeport also had to be moved to the Aquaculture School around the corner.
In spite of the storm, Merrill said there has been a surge in interest around the election. Over the past five or six weeks more than 100,000 people have registered to vote. At just under 2.1 million active voters, the state is just shy of the 2008 all-time-high. Merrill said voter turnout could be as high as 75 to 80 percent.
“The public is clearly still very interested in this election,” she said.
People between the ages of 18 and 29 years old represent the largest bloc of new voters. Since the beginning of the year, 90,089 have registered to vote.
Disenfranchisement and Fraud
Merrill said voters who see something troubling at the polls in their town should call the election day hotline, a cooperative effort between her office and the state Elections Enforcement Commission. The number for the hotline is 1-866-733-2463.
Merrill also announced a partnership with the Connecticut Bar Association, enabled under a ballot integrity law passed last year by the legislature. More than 100 volunteer lawyers have been specially trained to be available to go to polling places where problems have been reported to represent the Secretary of the State’s Office.
The lawyers will have no enforcement authority and will only be deployed if Merrill asks. She said they could serve as her “eyes and ears” on the ground to help supplement her office’s small staff.
Merrill said it will be up to the state Elections Enforcement Commission to act on any complaints regarding voter intimidation or fraud.
“We will have zero tolerance in Connecticut for either voter fraud or voter intimidation at the polls. I guess I don’t need to say that but I thought I should,” she said.
On Election Day 2010, the state Supreme Court granted an extension keeping the polls in Bridgeport open until 10 p.m. after the city ran out of ballots in 12 of its 23 polling places. But Merrill, who wasn’t the secretary of the state at the time, said that won’t be an issue on Tuesday. Most if not all local election officials ordered ballots for 110 percent of registered voters in their respective municipalities.
The number of ballots ordered is a decision of local election officials, who in turn report the number to the Secretary of the State’s office.
“They have all certified to our office [that they have enough ballots]. But you know how it is, the same bad thing never happens twice. It’s always something new. So we’re trying to cover every eventuality we can think of,” she said. “… I’m hoping for a smooth Election Day.”