Secretary of the State Denise Merrill's Remarks As PreparedAt the end of my first term in office as a state legislator, I was chosen for a fellowship program where they asked us to write down what role we wanted to be known for when our careers were over.
The way it was phrased was “write your own political epitaph” – a startling idea at the outset of your career.
They asked us to seal it in an envelope, put it away, and not think about it again for at least 10 years.
At the time, I remember the other legislators, primarily the men, throwing around “U.S. Senator” and even “President of the United States.”
I kept that envelope in my files for over 10 years, largely forgotten.
When I finally opened my envelope, I had written: I would like to end my career as the Connecticut Secretary of the State.
Serving three terms as your Secretary of the State has been the honor of my life.
Today I am announcing that I will not be running for re-election.
I’m so proud of what we have accomplished together during my past three terms.
I came into this office in 2011 with a promise to update and modernize the office with new technology and new ideas.
I wanted to make sure that Connecticut’s election system reflected our modern world and not 18th century Connecticut when it was designed.
I wanted to make it easier for businesses to register and do business in the state, and to access business filings online.
We made it easier for Connecticut citizens to register to vote by setting up online voter registration, Election Day Registration, and Automatic Voter Registration through the DMV, and now beyond.
I am proud to say that we have done all that and more over this past decade.
Besides helping voters more easily register to vote, these reforms also helped our hard-working local election officials, of both parties, in each of Connecticut’s 169 towns, to keep accurate voter rolls.
We are now using new tools to help keep the voter rolls more accurate, including the sharing of information with other states.
And of course, the world, and the world of election administration, changed dramatically during my time as Secretary.
I was the President of the National Association of Secretaries of State in 2016 when the US Intelligence Community, speaking with one voice, warned that hostile foreign powers, particularly Russia, were seeking to affect the outcome of our elections.
Overnight, election administration required a cybersecurity component, so we created the first in the nation state cybersecurity task force that incorporated local, state, and federal agencies.
Connecticut committed to bolstering our cyberinfrastructure – not just at the state level, but also for the registrars and town clerks in every town.
Meanwhile, it became clear that hostile foreign powers weren’t as concerned with hacking our voting technology as they were with hacking our minds.
A well-documented campaign of misinformation was launched, designed to erode American’s trust in their elections – one that continues to this day.
And then came a once-a-century global pandemic.
COVID-19 changed everything.
A deadly virus that passed through person-to-person contact put tremendous stress on an election system designed for one day of voting in school cafeterias and town halls throughout our state.
My staff and I started meeting in February, and working with the registrars, the town clerks, the legislature, and the governor, we were able to plan, design, and implement a system where every Connecticut voter was able to safely participate in the 2020 election.
And we launched the most comprehensive voter education campaign in state history to make sure that every voter knew exactly how to cast their ballot, even if it was new to them.
COVID-19 exposed the inflexibility of our election system.
It is clear now that there is broad public support for making our system more accessible to the modern voter.
I am proud that as I leave office voters will be choosing to authorize Early Voting, and that allowing universal access to absentee ballots is moving inexorably to its eventual passage.
Finally, I am proud of the steps that we have taken to modernize and streamline the Office of the Secretary of the State.
We do more today, using fewer resources than we did when I came into office in 2011.
Businesses can now do virtually all their interactions with my office online, and we are working with Governor Lamont and the other agencies to make a true one-stop experience for starting and growing a business in the state of Connecticut.
Our e-regulation system is a national example of good government, bringing the regulations process into the 21st century.
I want to make one thing clear – while I’m not running again, I am not retiring, there is too much work to be done!
I look forward to continuing to work on my twin passions – expanding access to the franchise to every eligible voter and fighting the insidious spread of misinformation about our elections through civic education and engagement.
I will be lending my efforts to passing the constitutional amendments that will allow voters to vote by the method of their choice – by absentee ballot without needing an excuse, in-person before Election Day, or at their local polling places as Connecticut voters have been doing for more than 200 years.
And I will be ending my career the way I began it – by promoting civic education.
We must commit to educating students and adults alike about how our government works, the safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of our elections, and giving everyone the tools necessary to tell the difference between reliable news and attractive falsehoods.
We must rededicate our efforts to include education for citizenship in our school curriculum and helping all citizens engage with their government at the local, state, and national levels.
Healing our country will take Republicans, Democrats, and unaffiliated voters working together, and I look forward to playing a part.
I also look forward to continuing to encourage more women to get involved in politics.
On average, women need to be asked seven times before they decide to run for office, and for women of color it is twice that.
Programs like the Women’s Campaign School at Yale that encourage women to run for office should be supported and encouraged.
We need more women of both parties doing this important work.
This year marks my thirtieth year in elected office.
I began in 1991 serving on the Mansfield Board of Education.
I hope I have made a difference.