Merrill Pushes to Make Voting Easier in Connecticut

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"In light of the pandemic it just seemed like a smart thing to do,” said Soloman Daniel of New Britain.

Daniel was one of more than 650,000 Connecticut voters who cast their ballot through the mail or the ballot drop box this year.

"The less roadblocks there are to voting, the more people you have voting,” said Daniel.

Emergency COVID-19 action by state lawmakers temporarily expanded the use of absentee ballots this year. 

The Secretary of the State is hopeful that the experience is something the public will want to see made permanent.

"They see all the other states around the country that have those options and it doesn't seem fair that we don't,” Merrill said.

There's also a push to allow early in-person voting here in Connecticut. 

"I'm against early voting because there have been instances now even with this where people wanted to change their votes,” said one voter who asked us not to use her name.

Merrill said she’s proposed an extra three to five days to vote. 

The non-partisan watchdog group Common Cause said it just makes sense.

“I think it will absolutely be a way to bring us into the modern age of elections,” said executive director Cheri Quickmire.

Approximately 659,000 Connecticut voters opted to cast absentee ballots because of the pandemic. So could large scale, no excuses, absentee balloting become the norm like it was during the pandemic?

"If they allowed the votes to be counted early and kind of speed things up, like we still don't know who's going to be the president, so I guess if that was one of the benefits of early voting then yeah,” said Katy Knerr of Middletown.

Merrill is cautious to go that far.

"Where do those ballots go? Who gets to know who's already voted or not? It would change the dynamics of campaigns,” she pointed out.

Governor Ned Lamont was asked if he supported the use of absentee ballots in the future.

"I saw hundreds of thousands of people who said I like the opportunity not to have to stand in a long line and vote,” he answered.

Republican Sen. Kevin Kelly said he supports efforts to increase participation but also the integrity of the ballot.

“I think this is one by the numbers it appears that many individuals felt that it was a good way to vote and got people to vote,” said Kelly, who was named minority leader on Thursday. “Certainly we like that, we like to see high turnout, we like to see people involved in the process.  The question will always be so that people have respect and faith in the system that the sanctity of the vote is maintained that we don’t create a system that would be rife with abuse.”

Changing the system means changing the constitution.  Connecticut is one of just half a dozen states that requires voters to cast their ballot in person on Election Day with few exceptions. 

Merrill has been trying for nine years to get a constitutional amendment passed.

When those ideas came before voters in 2014 they failed.  In 2019, the House passed the early voting amendment with more than 75% of the vote, but the Senate failed to reach the same threshold. 

Proponents will have to wait until 2021, when a new legislature is seated, to try again.

“The public has now experienced it and they like it.  They want those options,” said Merrill.

If approved by the legislature next year, both items would be on the statewide election ballot in 2022.

Lawmakers would have two years to work on state laws pertaining to the constitutional amendment, such as wear early voting could take place, before it went into effect in 2024.

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