Responding to last November's highly publicized Election Day problems in municipalities including Bridgeport, where a shortage of paper ballots contributed to a days-long delay in the declaration of a new governor, the Senate has approved a bill establishing standards to ensure local registrars buy enough ballots.
The 34-0 vote Thursday sent the bill to the House for action in coming weeks.
The bill says local voter registrars must certify to the secretary of the state that they have ordered enough ballots for each polling place. They also would need to show that they have considered all relevant factors in determining how many they need. Unless registrars clear their plans with the secretary of the state, they would have to order one ballot for each registered voter.
The bill also would require registrars to "create an emergency contingency plan for elections," covering potential problems including ballot shortages, a shortage or absence of poll workers, a loss of power, a fire or an alarm sounding in a polling place, voting-machine malfunctions, the need to remove a poll worker or moderator, and "disorder in and around the polling place."
"Free, fair and open elections are a hallmark of our representative democracy," said Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, co-chairwoman of the legislature's government administration and elections committee, as well as a leading proponent of the bill.
"The problems that we saw in several municipalities last year — where polling places ran out of ballots, voters were turned away and moderators struggled to adapt to unprecedented situations — were simply unacceptable," Slossberg said. "This legislation … empowers the secretary of the state to take a more active role in conducting elections in our state."
Last November's outcome in the gubernatorial election between now-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican nominee Tom Foley was delayed for days after a voting nightmare in Bridgeport. Polling places in that city ran out of pre-printed paper ballots on Election Day, and a judge responded by ordering balloting extended by two hours until 10 p.m.
Then-Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz was criticized, but she blamed local voting officials for not buying enough ballots. Bysiewicz came in for further criticism Thursday during the Senate debate on the bill when Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said she had been inattentive to her duties as chief elections official as she traveled the state handing out awards; Bysiewicz now is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.
McKinney praised the new secretary of the state, Democrat Denise Merrill, saying she is working to solve problems.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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