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Streamlining state elections

November 9, 2018

It took almost 10 hours after the polls closed for Connecticut voters to learn who won the hard-fought governors race, and by the time Ned Lamont was named the next governor, hardly anyone was awake to hear it.

It’s not the first time election results have been delayed in the state — Connecticut’s cities have developed a reputation for holding up the process — but with a wider majority in the state legislature, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is hopeful there could be changes on the horizon for the state’s voting laws.

First on the agenda will be proposing once again a change that would allow early voting in Connecticut, as well as create no-excuses absentee voting. She also plans to propose automatic registration for 16-year-olds, who could be registered when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles for the learners permit.

“There’s more optimism for passing early voting,” said Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Merrill’s office. “I think that there’s a real hunger for early voting. So many people want to vote early, especially when they see how many people in other states do it.”

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia allow early voting in person, which cuts down lines on election day, especially in highly populated cities, and helps results come in faster. A record 36 million people across the country voted ahead of Election Day this year.

Cheri Quickmire, executive director for Common Cause in Connecticut, said she’d like to see early voting as well as well as expanded automatic voter registration. Long lines for Election Day Registration in New Haven created confusion when hundreds of people were still in line past the 8 p.m. deadline to register.

“If we’re going to insist on sticking with the idea that it has to happen all on one day then it really should be a holiday,” Quickmire said. “But early voting works remarkably well in other states and for years it’s been working well. I would like to see early voting in Connecticut, which would ease up on some of the pressure for election officials.”

The biggest problem, Quickmire said, was the the polling sites and registration lines were understaffed. He said looking at ways to streamline and add consistency to polling practices across Connecticut’s cities and towns will also be a focus of the Secretary of the State’s office.

“There need to be additional resources put into hiring adequate staffing or to recruiting and training volunteers who are capable of providing the services that are needed,” Quickmire said. “Clearly there were not enough staff in New Haven to make the Election Day registration happen.”

In many state’s, voting practices are handled by regional county governments. But in Connecticut, where there is no county government, all 169 towns and cities are responsible for their own elections.

To make matters more complicated, every town has two — sometimes three — registrars. That’s well over 330 election officials, each with the authority to run elections how they see fit. Unsurprisingly, that causes problems, Rosenberg said.

The only way to change Connecticut’s voting practices is through a constitutional amendment that would allow early voting and eliminate the restrictions on absentee voting, a measure that has previously failed in Connecticut.

In the past two legislative sessions, bills that would addressed early voting passed the House but were never called for a vote in the Senate, which was tied 18-18. Now, with a greater majority in both houses, it’s likely voters will see an early voting question on the ballot next time around.

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt

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