ICYMI: Denise Merrill: It’s time to allow voting by mailICYMI, below are an op-ed by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill published by the Hartford Courant, an editorial published by Hearst Connecticut, and an editorial published by the Hartford Courant, all on the need to allow Connecticut voters to vote by mail if they choose, both in the current public health emergency and after it:
Denise Merrill: It’s time to allow voting by mail
By DENISE MERRILL | SPECIAL TO HARTFORD COURANT | MAR 26, 2020
In Connecticut, we pride ourselves on ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity to make their voice heard, whether it be in town meetings, at the ballot box, or in referenda that many towns hold every year. Despite that legacy, we have fallen behind most states in one crucial area: making it easy for registered voters to actually cast their ballots.
Forty-one states allow their voters to mail in a ballot without a reason, vote early in a polling place or both. Five states conduct all of their elections by mail, and California, Pennsylvania and others are moving in that direction by allowing permanent mail-in voting status.
Connecticut stands with Missouri, Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Rhode Island as the only states in the country that won’t let voters vote before Election Day and won’t let them vote by mail without an excuse. And of those states, we have the ignominious distinction of having the most restrictive absentee ballot laws in the country.
The argument for flexibility in voting methods isn’t that Connecticut is behind most other states, although we are, or that it would make it more convenient for voters to vote, although it would — the argument right now is that we are in a public health emergency, and our inflexibility is threatening our democracy.
The coronavirus has laid bare the weakness at the heart of our Election Day polling place-based system. Unlike almost everywhere else in America, our elections, instead of being run by counties, are run by the hard-working local election workers in each of our 169 towns. Thousands of poll workers staff almost 800 polling places in towns across the state. For years, Connecticut towns have struggled to find enough poll workers. Now, with an aging poll worker population and fear of a contagious and deadly virus, our towns are stretched to the breaking point.
I recommended to Gov. Ned Lamont and he issued executive orders that will delay Connecticut’s April 28 presidential primary until June 2. I have also asked him to use his emergency powers to remove the restrictive absentee ballot language in our statutes temporarily, so that more people are able to vote by mail when the primary is held.
These two measures would give us more time to prepare for what could be a large number of people who are either too ill to vote in person or who fear that they might be ill and don’t want to go to a polling place to vote.
States that have all mail voting, like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Michigan, are prepared for this, and states that allow mail-in voting with automatically sent ballots, like California, have the capacity to get quickly up to speed. We do not.
But there are steps we can take to both shore up our capacity to hold the Presidential Preference Primary, now set for June 2, and to anticipate a significant increase in absentee ballots for future elections.
The legislature should immediately remove the restrictive language in the absentee ballot statute so that voters can request an absentee ballot simply due to “illness” for the June 2 primary. If the legislature doesn’t act, the governor should use his emergency powers to make this change. After all, anyone who is scared to visit a polling place for fear of spreading or contracting a deadly disease should not have to choose between their health and their right to vote.
But what if we are facing similar challenges in August? What if we see a fall resurgence of COVID-19 before the general election?
First, the legislature should immediately vote for a Constitutional Amendment, like the one I proposed in 2019, that removes the restrictive absentee voting language and provides for early voting, and do it with a super-majority so voters can decide on it this November. This would not solve the short-term problem but would give us the flexibility we now need to respond to new realities.
Second, anticipating a larger number of absentee ballots means we need a significant change to our voting infrastructure, including the use of new technologies and systems to accommodate new realities. There are proposals in Congress that have broad support to require the option of voting by mail for all Americans. This change would mean hiring additional people to open, sort and feed mailed in ballots into our tabulators, and to reconsider the number of polling places we currently require. We also would have additional physical needs. Some of our bigger towns will need space to collect and store, under lock and key, an unprecedented number of mailed ballots. My office will also need the resources to quickly develop an online mechanism to request an application for mail-in ballot. To pull this off by November, the legislature would have to allocate emergency funding.
Finally, we need to recognize that we are not just in a public health emergency but a democratic emergency. The coronavirus is affecting our ability to hire poll workers, locate polling places and gather together to elect our representatives the way we have in Connecticut for 200 years. It’s affecting our very ability hold an election.
Delaying the primary does not entirely solve the underlying problem. The November general election cannot be delayed, and it surely can’t be denied. We are on the precipice of disaster but, acting together, putting aside partisanship, we can ensure that every Connecticut voter is able to safely, conveniently and fairly cast their ballot and have it counted.
Denise Merrill is Connecticut’s secretary of the state.
Editorial: Gov. — Allow coronavirus concern for absentee ballots
By Hearst Connecticut Media Editorial Board | Published Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont acted prudently, on the advice of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, to move the presidential primary from April 28 to June 2.
The shift is in response, of course, to the still-developing coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted every aspect of daily life and created a public health crisis with more than nearly two dozen people in our state dying.
It is too risky to have groups of people gather in halls to vote and for poll workers to deal with voters throughout the day while the virus is rampant. Merrill urged that voters be “able to cast their ballots as safely as possible.”
We have argued that in normal times April 28 is too late for the state to have much influence on the outcome of the party primaries to select presidential candidates. Though the move to June is necessary, it could end up moot.
If U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders withdraws from the Democratic race, as many are urging for party unity, then former Vice President Joe Biden would be the only candidate on the ballot and a primary not needed. In the Republican primary, party chairman J.R. Romano is calling on the lone opponent to President Donald Trump, after former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld dropped out, to withdraw. Likely most voters don’t know the name of the challenger (Rocky De La Fuente).
Although the primaries might not happen, we must proceed as though they will. Lamont should take the next step and issue an executive order to allow “no excuses” absentee balloting.
By state statute, presently absentee ballots can be given only to registered voters away from home, such as in the military or at college, or because of illness. Restrictions should be removed, as Merrill requested of the governor on March 13, for any primary voter concerned about the coronavirus who wants to avoid crowded places.
Lamont has time — absentee ballots won’t be available until May 12 — but he should put voters’ concerns at ease now and act by executive order to allow concern about illness to be acceptable for an absentee ballot.
It is too late to switch parties and vote in the presidential primary, even with the delay. That would have been by March 2. But new or unaffiliated voters can enroll in a party in person at Town or City Hall by June 1.
Though the primary is the immediate concern, the governor would be wise to think ahead to the November election for no-excuses absentee ballots. The state and country could be in the second wave of the coronavirus in the fall with no vaccine likely yet available.
An argument may be a concern for fraudulent voting, but with time measures can be taken to ensure a fair process.
Connecticut needs to make it easier for voters to participate in elections as other states do — including early voting — not only during this health crisis, but also after it passes.
It’s time for mail-in voting, along with other necessary innovations
By EDITORIAL | HARTFORD COURANT | MAR 29, 2020
But some laws remain that need to be revisited, and it’s ever more urgent now.
One of the most important things the state can do today is to allow voters to cast ballots through the mail, an incredibly sensible move at any time but now absolutely necessary.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has supported the change for some time and has reasserted the benefits of mail voting, especially now, with the June 2 presidential primary looming. This is no time to hesitate. If Connecticut voters are going to participate in the June primary and the November general election -- and who knows what the coronavirus crisis will look like then -- the state must accommodate voters who cannot leave their homes.
Forty-one states allow mail-in voting, early voting or both. Why Connecticut has lagged behind on this is bewildering. Our progressive reputation is often belied by our refusal to step out of the 18th century.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but it also can help save lives. We must continue to relax laws and regulations that can responsibly help speed the response to the coronavirus crisis, that can help students get an education and that can help preserve our democratic processes.
It’s time to get rid of some red tape.