HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 5:40 p.m.) Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who said she would have waited to announce her 2018 re-election if democracy wasn’t under attack, filed her paperwork Friday to seek a third term.
Merrill, who recently served as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, said Friday that she wasn’t ready to give up on all of the progress she’s made modernizing Connecticut’s elections and integrity.
“Now more than ever, we need to protect voting rights and stand up for our democracy,” Merrill said. “There are voices calling for rolling back hard won voting rights. Their actions would erode our shared democracy. I say to them — not on my watch. We‘ve come too far to turn back now.”
Merrill started making calls to party members two weeks ago to gauge their support and officially filed her paperwork Friday afternoon.
She said she was inspired to make the early announcement due to what seems like daily attacks on democracy and voter integrity.
But there may have been other reasons.
Rep. Matt Lesser, a Democrat from Middletown, had already formed an exploratory committee with an eye toward the Secretary of the State’s office. Lesser told the Middletown Press earlier this year that if Merrill decided to run for re-election, he wouldn’t force a primary.
Lesser said Friday that he’s a man of his word.
“Denise has been an outstanding Secretary of the State,” Lesser said. “I made it clear I would only run if she didn’t.”
Merrill said she has been in contact with Lesser about her plans, but it turns out he’s not the only Democrat that was eyeing the seat.
Woodbridge Democratic Party Town Chairwoman Karen Talamelli Cusick also filed paperwork at the end of July to run for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of the State. Cusick said Friday she planned to challenge Merrill for the position.
“I appreciate what she has done, but I come from a different approach,” Cusick said.
Cusick who is the finance director for Project Service LLC, which owns and operates the 23 Connecticut Service Plazas along Interstate 95, the Merritt Parkway and Interstate 395, said she would work with local registrars to improve Connecticut’s election system and seek to increase the role of the Secretary of the State.
“I’m better at smashing walls and building bridges,” Cusick said.
Cusick felt her business and construction background will serve her well in the office.
Merrill comes from a different background. She is licensed to practice law in the state of California and was a former state lawmaker before becoming the Secretary of the State.
As far as what she’s most proud of during her two terms, “I’m proud of the work that we’ve done to ensure that every eligible voter in Connecticut is able to vote without intimidation, fear of fraud, or unnecessary barriers to casting a ballot,” Merrill added. “Together with Connecticut voters and town officials, we have made Connecticut a leader in free, fair, and safe elections.”
Also as the recent past president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Merrill has emerged as a national spokesperson on election cyber security, increased voter privacy, and efforts to prevent voter intimidation in response to the new “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.”
Merrill has refused to turn over to the commission certain voter data that’s not generally available to the public, despite the commission’s request that she do so.
During her two-terms as Secretary of the State, Merrill was instrumental in implementing the state’s online voting registration system and she oversaw the first elections that allowed a voter to register and vote on the same day. She also helped settle a dispute with the U.S. Department of Justice over how voters register to vote at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Before running for Secretary of the State, Merrill represented the town of Mansfield for 17 years. During her tenure in the legislature, she chaired the Appropriations Committee and was majority leader of the House from 2009 to 2011.
In a 2009 poll by Connecticut magazine, Majority Leader Merrill was named by her colleagues in the legislature as “Most Respected by the Other Side of the Aisle” and “Most Effective Legislator.”
She also has three children and five grandchildren and is a classically trained pianist.