Last week, the League of Women Voters hosted a forum at the Greenwich Town Hall. We were grateful to have Secretary of the State Denise Merrill attend and give us her thoughts on how Connecticut can modernize different election processes. Though people’s opinions may differ on changing our current policies on voter registration or absentee balloting, we can all agree that any method of encouraging more people to participate in elections will strengthen our democratic process.
You can read more about the meeting in the Greenwich Time article featured below:
“I went back and in 20 years we could not find a single instance of in-person voter fraud,” Merrill said Thursday at a forum hosted by the Greenwich chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Merrill spoke to a gathering of about 30 people in the Cone Room at Greenwich Town Hall.
“The voter fraud we have seen, if we have seen any, has been around absentee ballots, not voting twice. It has been around people helping the frail and the elderly to fill out their ballots. That has really been exclusively the complaints we have had.”
Asked her opinion following the forum, state Rep. Livvy Floren, R-149th District, agreed with Merrill that cases of voter fraud are rare. Accusations of such fraud are usually based on anecdotal information, she said.
“Everybody talks about it, and we have no empirical data to prove it true, it’s all anecdotal,” Floren said.
Floren called voter fraud “a very chilling word for everyone who cares about the integrity of the ballot and integrity of the vote.”
Merrill said she’s proposing “modest first steps,” including a state constitutional change, in order to boost voter participation and modernize how elections are conducted in the state. Currently, the constitution requires that everyone, with some very specific exceptions, appear in person at voting precincts on Election Day in order to vote, she said. Merrill pointed to Oregon, which uses mail-in ballots, as one example of how voting could be modernized in Connecticut.
Merrill said she hopes the constitutional change will be on the ballot in this year’s election.
Another step would be to allow voters to register online, Merrill said. Their information would be crosschecked through the Department of Motor Vehicles, she said.
While she favors online registration, Merrill said she is opposed to online voting, because it is unclear if it is a secure system.
Her final push is to allow Election Day registration. Merrill said many voters, especially younger voters, can’t understand why they are not allowed to register and vote immediately on Election Day.
The election structure is “creaky” and filled with issues, such as dead people still listed on voter rolls, Merrill said. Many people who have died remain on voter rolls because the state is not allowed to take them off unless it receives official notice. While the state is informed if someone dies in Connecticut, it is not if a person dies in Florida, she said. The problem is an example of an area where modernization and cooperation between states could create more efficiency, she said.
Connecticut has had its share of election-related foul-ups, with the most notorious occurring in the 2010 election, when Bridgeport registrars ran out of ballots due to higher-than-anticipated turnout.
Merrill, who criticized the handling of the vote, also offered some defense of the registrars, saying they were trying to run a cost-efficient office by ordering only enough ballots based on past election turnouts.
“Those registrars were trying to keep their budgets down,” she said. “They were feeling pressure to downsize the budget.”
Merrill said cost is a significant factor in running elections, and there needs to be an investment in running elections, including introducing more technology that initially may be more expensive.
“It is time to talk about technology, and certainly in a town like Greenwich you can afford it,” Merrill said.
She cited electronic poll books as one example. They replace the traditional printed poll books and can be updated immediately. Merrill said such measures would help attract younger voters, who have grown up using the Internet and can’t understand a system that seems too slow and awkward for them.
“The strength of our democracy rests on the participation of all citizens,” she said.
Pam Sloane, 68, from Old Greenwich, said she was surprised at the restrictions on voting changes in Connecticut.
“Now I understand the limits because of the state constitution,” Sloane said. “That changes cannot take place unless the constitution of the state of Connecticut is amended. I had no idea it was so concretely laid out.”