HARTFORD – About 74 percent of registered voters in Connecticut cast ballots in the November election, a turnout level Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called "very healthy" since portions of the state were still reeling from a devastating storm just days before.
Yet Merrill said even more people would cast ballots if Connecticut permitted early voting and election-day registration. Her remarks came during a brief news conference at the state Capitol Wednesday just before she signed the necessary forms to certify the election results.
More than 1.5 million voters cast ballots on election day and another 118,000 voted by absentee ballot, she said. Turnout was 18 percent higher than it was in 2010, when there was no presidential election. However, it fell short of the 78.1 percent turnout in 2008.
Merrill noted that four of the states with better voter turnout than Connecticut last month -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Maine -- all allow voters to register on election day. Beginning in Nov., 2013, Connecticut voters will be able to do so as well.
Early voting, voting by mail and no-excuse absentee voting would also boost turnout as well as reducing wait times at polling places on election day, Merrill said.
The framework for such a change is already underway: lawmakers endorsed an amendment to the state constitution allowing for early voting during the 2012 legislative session. The General Assembly must approve the measure again in the upcoming session, then the matter would go before voters in the form of a ballot question in 2014. If approved, lawmakers would then establish the rules and a system for early voting could be in place by the 2016 presidential election.
Two other states that topped Connecticut in overall turnout -- Washington and Oregon -- conduct all elections by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut ranked 7th in turnout among all states in 2012.
"For the most part we had a remarkably smooth election,'' a fact that was all the more impressive because many towns were holding elections "under less than ideal circumstances" in the wake of the storm, Merrill said.
"The most serious issue we had in Connecticut on election day was that we had some long lines at polls in some places, and frankly for such a high turnout election that's not a bad problem to have,'' she said.
Towns with the highest percentage of voters were Bridgewater, Middletown, Ridgefield, Washington and Woodbridge.
Some towns, such as West Hartford, saw long lines at polling places due to heavy turnout and fewer polling places.
"We just have to face the fact that you cannot, in a presidential election, chose this time to cut your budget for elections,'' Merrill said. "In many places, towns were trying to squeeze down the election budget and they didn't have enough poll workers or tables."
Merrill said she is committed to working with communities and local election officials to make long lines aren't the norm in the future. "We have to provide better standards and more training," she said.
She also wants to hear from voters: her office has established an email account, firstname.lastname@example.org, so citizens can share their election day stories. "I want to know from people: how did the election go for you? And not just maybe complaints but what went right,' Merrill said.'
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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