New Secretary of the State Denise Merrill wasted no time in convening a useful Public Forum on Election Reform at 10a.m. Friday Jan. 7th, less than two days after taking her oath of office at the National Guard Armory in Hartford. This examiner was called by her media assistant Av Harris, who worked hard to make sure word of the event got out. A press release was issued January 6th and the state’s media was well represented at the event, and it was marked by brand new Governor Dan Malloy’s very brief and informal appearance at 10:06a.m. almost as soon as the event began, when he commented that the Secretary’s forum was about to do “Important work…to make sure every vote gets counted.” Wise words and good timing from the man who had perhaps the most to lose from the ballot shortage in Bridgeport on November 2nd 2010, election day. He then left and Secretary Merrill proceded with her work.
She opened the conference asking panel members to try confining comments to election day process primarily, althogh she acknowleged many other election issues can and need to be discussed, but that focusing the morning’s conference on this topic would be more constructive for her, as the new State’s chief elections officer, when she moves forward. She assured all that these other matters would be addressed as time goes on. She did emphasize that Bridgeport was not the only matter of concern with the process on election day, although that has obviously garnered the majority of public attention and speculation, and indicated a desire to ensure that no irregularities occur of any sort, not just those that occured in Bridgeport. The Secretary’s Deputy Secretary, James Spallone offered extensive commentary and demonstrated mastery of the issues and clearly was intent upon the mission of every vote counting as well.
On the panel were representatives of Common Cause, MERAC[the official panel convened by Bridgeport Mayor Finch to probe the ballot shortage–Attorney Richard Bieder, represented the investigative team], the Citizen Election Audit Coalition, the State Election Enforcement Comission, the Registrar of Voters Association(ROVA) of CT, the Town Clerks Association, and the CT Citizens’ Action Group. Snow disrupted some attendees and invited guests from the League of Women Voters and the NAACP were not in attendance, although proxies for the groups were able to offer some views. Elections expert, Professor Bilal Sekou from the University of Hartford also participated on the panel, and questioned panel members. After each panel member was given a chance to present their views, Secretary Merrill and Deputy Secretary Spallone questioned panel members further. Members of the public were invited to speak, and several signed up and did so, including one interesting comment in particular by a fledgling inventor who had an interesting idea regarding UPC codes and Driver’s Licenses and State ID’s–he came prepared with a diagram of a device.
Attorney Bieder presented first, and said that although his Commission has 2 more meetings left to go, that much information has been discovered already, and he called the balloting process “the 200 pound gorilla in the room.” He was concerned that there apparently was not an accurate number available of registered voters, and he commented that there were “dead people on lists.” He articulated well the need to spread the cost of elections among the municipalities instead of requiring localities to fund the process, saying that Bridgeport[having a lower tax base] has to provide for more voters than other districts. He recommended funding at a level that would allow for no more than a 15 or 20 minute wait to vote at any point in the day. A military veteran, he suggested more extensive training for poll workers including mock drills for possible problems. He recommended replacing “runners” — with higher tech abilities and utilizing technology more effectively. He saw problems with the “privacy booths” with the current voting method, which aren’t all that private and the desks he saw as flimsy–recommendation was made for Vocational-Technical students to manufacture better booths. And he recommended standardization of salaries of workers from town to town more than at present.
The Common Cause spokesperson was particularly interested in seeing that there be a standard training system for voting workers throughout the state, and for reporting results to the state at the end of the day as well as the “need to bottom line make sure we never run out of ballots.” Common Cause and most other panel members advocated same day registration very strongly, as did Secretary Merrill in a conversation after the panel. She clearly indicated that practical implementation of same day registration was her concern, not a question of “whether” to implement same day voter registration, rather a question of “how” to get it done. Advantages of same day registration offered were the 10 to 12% increase in voting that happens in states where it is currently in force.
Voter fraud was seen as a concern of panel members, but emphasized by several was the fact that many are denied their votes because they show up at the wrong polling place and are not given adequate information in an understandable way to get to their proper polling place. More prominent posters at polling sites explaining voter rights and options on election day were advocated by many, and clearly an idea endorsed by the Secretary.
Connecticut’s strong municipalities, and relatively weak county system of governance makes the election process in CT different than in other states according to those on the panel who have been to national conferences and have had the opportunity to discuss the matter with officials and advocates from other states. Dependence upon municipal funding for the elections and primaries came up repeatedly. Taking advantage of technological capabilities in reporting also was a frequent concern of panel participants.
Secretary Merrill is particularly interested in determining whether legislation rather than regulatory change is in order. The enforcement capabilities of the Secretary of the State’s office seems to be a concern for panel members and something that the incumbent Secretary is very interested in accurately assessing. Her previous role as State House Majority Leader, and her offices at the Capitol right outside the legislative chamber as well as her evident cordial relationship with her peers in the Legislature, with the new Governor and with the assembled experts indicate an ability to get the job done if legislation is required, or if it is not.
Worth reporting[not from the panel discussion] is the apparent fact that no criminal wrongdoing is likely to be reported from the Bridgeport investigation whatsoever.
Following the panel, Secretary Merrill answered questions from members of the media, and I had the opportunity to sit down in her office with her following that and ask her a wide range of questions on the matters before the panel and more. And I got a much needed brownie. :) Elsewhere here at glowbass.com an article detailing that conversation will be found.