HARTFORD, CT  —  Connecticut has a total of $8.5 million in state and federal funds to upgrade its election structure, but it will be up to lawmakers to improve access to the ballot. 

“It is time for us to put aside our very restrictive voter access laws and move forward,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Wednesday. 

The financial investment, according to Bysiewicz, will ensure that elections remain free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters. Specific changes focus on modernizing the central voter registration system, election management system, and other pieces of infrastructure that have been in place for two decades. 

“The right to vote is the most precious civil right that we have,” Bysiewicz said. “COVID-19 proved that we had a lot of obstacles in making sure people were safe when they went to vote.”

Connecticut has one of the oldest voter registration systems in the country and the current system is nearing the end of its functional life, according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

“When we applied for this funding, we knew it was time to make some changes to modernize some of our election’s infrastructure,” Merrill said. 

State officials said the replacement of the central voter registration system as a way to enhance functionality and security, improve experience of voters and officiate flexibility when managing potential changes in future elections. 

“The most critical need we have at the moment is for a new voter registry system and that will be our first line of business,” Merrill said. “That will allow us to ulster our cyber security as well.” 

Merrill said this implemented advancement stemmed from a “wake-up call” when Russian agencies attempted to hack the system in 2016, but failed in successfully doing so. 

“Now, we are going to go to the next level and have an actual new voter registry,” Merrill said. “We’re getting input from all the local officials and other people that are users of the system — including the public.” 

The funding will also aid replacing the election management system (EMS) to boost user experience for voters and election officials, ensuring the utmost security and reporting while warranting for improvement in design to allow easier access for online election night results. 

Connecticut has not replaced tabulators that count ballots since they were first purchased and introduced in 2008. The grant will help start the discussion about replacing them. 

“We know that we are going to have to replace them in the near future,” Merrill said. “And so, we have a planning process where we can start to look at what we want the future of our elections to look like.” 

Merrill said the improvements are a step toward the planning process but will potentially take a couple of years and far more resources to actually replace the set scanning machines. 

“The newer scanners will be much more robust, they will have much more security protection and easy for use,” Merrill said. 

The other project Merrill and Bysiewicz said this grant will focus on improving is the expansion of automatic voter registration (AVR) to other state agencies to enhance voter registration in Connecticut. 

AVR at the DMV has reported in being substantially successful since its introduction in 2016 with 500,000 new voter registrations and 700,000 address changes made, according to the press release.

“We want accurate voter lists,” Merrill said. “And this is the way we are going to get them.” 

The program is intended to be expanded to other agencies, such as higher education, as a direct result of the improvement it had in accurately portraying lists over the past couple of years. 

The historical reasoning behind Connecticut’s restriction laws regarding voting have been in place since the 1818 constitution as a way to allow soldiers away at war to be able to vote. Connecticut is now the only state in the country with these laws embedded within the state’s constitution. 

“We are not a state that allows easy access for the voters to vote in the sense that it is very difficult to qualify to get an absentee ballot,” Merrill said. “And that’s what we want to change.” 

The Office of the Secretary of the State has already begun working with key stakeholders to evaluate set changes to CVRS and EMS, possible new AVR agencies. The process of putting together a working group to assess the next generation voting technology will follow.