HARTFORD, CT — Following the headaches that were experienced in a number of towns on Election Day last November, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she is recommending a number of legislative changes.
“I would like to see us change our voting system into something that’s much more votercentric than it is today,” Merrill said Thursday. “We need to change the voter experience.”
Merrill said she finds it unacceptable that voters had to wait in lines that were longer than 20 or 30 minutes in some towns.
“There were people that I believe were turned away which is the worst thing that can happen,” Merrill said.
She was referring specifically to the problems in New Haven with Election Day Registration where some voters may have been turned away because they had not yet registered to vote. If they had registered to vote and were in line before 8 p.m. they would have been allowed to vote.
She said there were signs like this one in the this photo from the New Haven Independent.
Hundreds of people who were in line—mostly Yale students— were not able to register and vote before the polls closed.
Some people who were in line before 4 p.m. that day waited four hours to vote.
Merrill said she is supporting legislation that would require cities and towns to provide staffing plans 30 days in advance of an election to the Secretary of the State’s office. If Merrill found the staffing was not adequate then she could force the town to hire more staff.
Merrill said the plan would have to say how many staff were dedicated to administering Election Day Registration.
In New Haven, only two deputy registrars were registering voters. By the end of the day a third had been added, but their efforts fell short, according to Merrill.
Merrill said New Haven wasn’t the only town where there were long lines.
There were long lines all across the state.
“They should have seen it coming based on how many people were registering to vote,” Merrill said. “And some of the towns just did not plan appropriately.”
The additional staff for elections will have to be paid for by the cities and towns. It’s unclear how much that could cost them.
But Merrill doesn’t care.
“We have to appropriately staff for elections. It is the most important function of government at every level. It is disturbing to me that potentially hundreds of people were denied their right to vote because of inappropriate staffing levels.”
Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said it would be better if the plans could be submitted six months in advance because 30 days isn’t enough time to train a poll worker.
He said they don’t have any issue with administering their election and turnout in the last election was around 70 percent in his town. He said requiring more staffing will add costs to some towns, but he doesn’t see it impacting Ridgefield.
He said Merrill should maybe find a better way to target the towns that continue to fall short.
Aside from a constitutional amendment to allow for early voting, Merrill also wants to prescribe the size and design of the ballots.
Right now cities and towns get to design their own ballots, but Merrill said that caused many towns to have two-sided ballots in 2018 and there needs to be more uniformity.
She also wants to shorten the deadline for finalizing the names of candidates on the ballot.
She wants lawmakers to approve legislation that would require the ballots to be finalized 46 days before an election. Right now it’s 24 days.
One statewide candidate dropped off the ballot last year and was replaced by another candidate, which caused cities and towns to reprint their ballots.
Merrill’s proposal means if a candidate drops out 45 days before an election, no other candidate could be substituted.
Merrill also believes the time has come to eliminate Connecticut’s “challenger” statute.
At the moment, a so-called “challenger” could be appointed under Connecticut law to “challenge the right of any person offering to vote,” if they didn’t believe that a voter was eligible to vote.
Merrill said under Connecticut’s law anyone in the polling place can challenge anyone who is in a polling place and since “that’s true we don’t see any need to have a special statute.”
She said it’s just seen as a “political maneuver to get another partisan person in the polling place and that was not the intent originally.”
She said they also want to eliminate a towns ability to use the same ballot tabulator for two different precincts. That’s what happened in Stratford in the now contested 120th House District race.
“It causes vast confusion and you’ve seen what happens when we try to untangle that,” Merrill said. “Because there’s no way you can tell who got what.”
Merrill would also like to allow 16 year olds to pre-register to vote on their 18th birthday.
She supports a constitutional amendment to prepare them to vote. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow 16 year olds to pre-register now.
Finally, Merrill is again proposing to allow people on parole to vote, as people on probation are currently allowed. She said this will eliminate confusion about when electoral rights are restored, and help formerly incarcerated people reintegrate into the civic life of their community.
Legislation was debated on the issue last year, but never approved.
Many of the proposals Merrill is making through lawmakers have yet to be posted on the electronic bill site.