Early voting, automatic registration, "no-excuse" absentee ballots, and better training for poll workers.
Connecticut should consider these and other measures to improve the voting process, according to a panel organized by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.
Merrill, who took office Wednesday, convened the forum Friday morning at the Capitol in response to widespread reports of problems in Bridgeport on Election Day 2010.
Moments before the discussion began, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy poked his head into the Old Appropriations Room, where the forum was being held, to thank the group and reiterate the importance of fair elections.
The goal, said Deputy Secretary of the State James Spallone, is to determine "what are the weakest and most vulnerable points in our election system and how can they be fixed. Those are the two questions that arise out of what happened in Bridgeport and what happened in other communities of the state."
The panel included local election officials, leaders of citizen advocacy groups and lawyers in the secretary of the state's office.
It did not propose specific legislation, although state Rep. Betty Boukus, D- Plainville, said she has already filed a bill that would allow for "no excuse" absentee ballots.
Under current law, people seeking absentee ballots must provide a reason why they cannot be at the polls on Election Day. Valid excuses include military deployment, travelling out of state for business and illness. But Boukus and others say that in an age when people travel a great deal, such requirements don't make sense and absentee ballots should be available to anyone who seeks one — no excuses.
Better training and pay for poll workers, along with streamlined paperwork for municipalities, was also discussed. Several participants said election workers ought to be compensated based on the amount of work they are expected to do. For instance, a worker at a polling place that sees 80 voters should not be paid the same as a worker at a polling place with 800 voters, they said.
Bridgeport attorney Richard Bieder suggested that the training include a scenario where things go wrong, to prepare poll workers for such situations. Bieder is serving on a Bridgeport committee investigating the city's election day snafus.
Other speakers suggested steps to ensure that members of minority groups aren't disenfranchised. Automatic registration is one way to ensure greater ballot access, several members of the group agreed.
Long lines and polling places that change from election to election create chaos and undermine voter confidence in the system, panel members said. Merrill, who lives in Storrs, a college town with a transient population, said students sometimes avoid voting in local elections because they are unsure if they qualify.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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