Denise Merrill told a New London audience Wednesday that Connecticut’s election process went smoothly in this year’s election, but that there are still areas for improvement.
Merrill, the Connecticut Secretary of State, spoke at the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in an event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut. Merrill said she was most concerned about voter turnout due to frustrations with the lengthy campaigns and constant political advertisements. However, she said turnout was high in both the state and nation, with Connecticut’s potentially reaching as much as 78 percent.
“I think it’s going to keep the pundits going for years, trying to figure out what energized this electorate,” said Merrill. “It’s amazing.”
Merrill said that even with power outages from Hurricane Sandy persisting to Election Day, people made the effort to get to the polls. She said there was a major effort to restore electricity to polling places, but that the storm has also generated a conversation on emergency plans to prepare for such difficulties if there is less time to maintain regular polling places.
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Merrill also said recent legislation has given the Secretary of State’s Office greater authority to intervene in certain Election Day situations. She said the long lines at some polling places at this election prompted such a response, as volunteer attorneys and other approved people assisted in confirming voters to speed up the process. She said the office can also remove moderators for cause if there is reason to believe they are deliberately allowing long lines in an effort to disenfranchise voters.
Merrill also said she was troubled by how a recent redistricting of state districts affected some areas and said a bipartisan commission should look into the issue. She said Torrington required seven different ballots due to the different state representative races.
“The gerrymandering from this redistricting was absolutely ridiculous,” she said.
The voter registration process is changing to allow greater access to the polls, Merrill said. Same-day voter registration will go into effect on July 1, 2013 while online voter registration will be available at the beginning of 2014. Merrill said a ballot question that year will also determine whether to allow early voting. Currently, the state only permits voting in advance via absentee ballot in certain circumstances.
“I favor early voting. I think it would take a lot of pressure off Election Day,” said Merrill. “It’s so obvious, we wouldn’t have thousands of people all voting on the same day.”
Judy Dolphin, president of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut, said the organization took a position in 1983 supporting such measures to increase access to the polls. She said the position also advocated easy access to information on the candidates and issues, a secure voting method, and enforcement of election laws.
“I would say that our position is very firm, very flexible, very strong,” said Dolphin.