AP NEWS

Merrill makes the case for early voting at Greenwich talk

March 4, 2019

GREENWICH — Connecticut is one of the few states in the country that does not offer early voting — and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill wants that to change.

“Too many times in 2018, even here in Connecticut, we have long lines,” said Merrill, a Democrat. “I’m talking two or three hours long to vote. That is simply unacceptable. That’s like denying someone their right to vote. Who has two hours so they can stand in line to vote? It’s just not right.”

Merrill, who is pushing for a state constitutional amendment that would permit early voting, made her case at a discussion at Town Hall last Thursday put together by the Greenwich Democratic Town Committee.

Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia offer early voting, and support for it is rising in polls. Early voting could make it easier and more convenient for citizens to vote, Merrill told a bipartisan crowd of nearly 75 people.

Under her proposal, the amendment would set aside a minimum of three days of early voting, probably a week before Election Day, and would allow all voters to use absentee ballots. Currently, Connecticut offers no early voting, and absentee ballots are limited to members of the armed forces, voters who are out of town for all hours of voting, anyone who is ill or has a physical disability, those limited by religious beliefs from performing secular activities and voters performing duties as an election official.

“This has been a nonpartisan and bipartisan issue,” Merrill said. In Vermont, “it passed unanimously from both houses. All Democrats and Republicans voted for this bill.”

In Connecticut, the issue is “somewhat partisan, much to my surprise,” she said. “I think support is growing, but I need all of you to get the word out to your representatives and senators. This issue underpins all others. We need to make sure people can exercise their right to vote.”

To amend the state Constitution, 75 percent of the members of both the state House and state Senate must approve the measure. Then it would go to a statewide ballot for a vote.

A proposal is pushing its way through the legislature now, aiming for a ballot question in Connecticut for the 2020 presidential election.

State Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-36, and state Rep. Stephen Meskers, D-150, attended the speech and offered their support for early voting in Connecticut. State Reps. Livvy Floren, R-149, and Fred Camillo, R-151, did not attend but spoke afterward about the possibility.

“I have always supported initiatives which increase voter participation and have voted to put the early voting proposition on a referendum for Connecticut residents to decide,” Floren said. “I will support the effort again this year.”

Making in-person voting available for a few additional days at city and town halls “should be fine,” Camillo said, as long as there was a limit to it.

Merrill, who was re-elected last November to her third term as secretary of the state, pointed to her accomplishments in office, including the voter registration systems online and at the Department of Motor Vehicles, where she said a “vast majority” of registrations are completed.

“These things, I think, are working and it’s better — but you have to remember that the statistics we cite are all about people who are registered,” Merrill said. “They’re not talking about eligible voters. We think there’s still about a third of the eligible voters, even in Connecticut, that are not registered to vote. We’ve got a problem out there.”

The problem can’t be solved with administrative changes, she said. Every resident needs to understand that their vote matters, she said.

Another important issue in voting is security, Merrill said. In 2016, Connecticut was among 21 states targeted by Russian agencies as part of an attempted attack on voter registration databases. She said she was very concerned that the state was only told later about the attempt.

“Since then, we’ve come a long way and have a much better communication, shall we say, with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and all the other agencies that are now dealing with this,” Merrill said. “It’s very real. … There is going to be even more of this activity for the 2020 election. It’s extremely well-funded. It’s really focused on creating distrust in the American people ...

“We’re doing everything we can at the state level to make sure our systems are secure and that people can trust in the election,” she said. “That is the bottom line because if we lose that trust, we’ve lost our democracy.”

Merrill’s appearance was the first in a planned series of talks organized by the DTC about state, local and national issues.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com