Merrill: Changes needed to avoid another Election Day fiasco

The state’s new chief elections officer says she plans to promote changes to ensure that the Election Day fiasco of 2010, when polling places in Bridgeport and a half dozen other communities ran out of ballots on Election Day, doesn’t happen again.

“There are some common sense solutions,” Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill told a task force she convened Friday to begin drafting election reforms.

The biggest problems in the last election were in Bridgeport, where several polling places started running out of ballots in early afternoon. A judge ordered the polling places to stay open late, but an unknown number of residents left when they were unable to vote.

Meanwhile, the city resorted to using photocopied ballots. Those ballots had to be hand-counted, a process that wasn’t completed until the Friday after Election Day. And because of reports of irregularities in the city voting, Republican Tom Foley did not concede to Democrat Dannel P. Malloy until the following Monday.


Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and deputy James Spallone listen to UofH professor Bilal Sekou

Several members of Merrill’s task force said the ballot snafu amounted to disenfranchisement of some in the largely minority Bridgeport electorate.

“This just erodes the likelihood they will show up” in future elections, said Bilal Sekou, a University of Hartford political science professor who studies voting behavior.

Bridgeport’s problem arose from the fact that the city had ordered too few ballots–just 21,000 ballots for nearly 70,000 registered voters. In reaction, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said the state should require towns purchase a minimum number of ballots. She said she has recommended towns have one ballot available for every registered voter.

Two legislators — Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London and Rep. Charles Clemons of Bridgeport — are proposing a bill that would require towns to print one ballot for every registered voter and have the state’s campaign finance program pick up the tab.

But Merrill said she is not likely to support requiring town registrars have one ballot for each registered voter.

“It gets to the case of who pays,” Merrill said. “Can we do [election ballots] a different way that still makes sense? Yes.”

Towns currently have to pay the cost of printing official ballots. Merrill said she has been told that price tag can range anywhere from 30 cents to $1 a ballot.

Merrill said she is considering several ways to draw down those costs, the first being giving towns the authority to buy their own printers to print official ballots. Merrill said there are currently just two printing companies that produce the official ballots and that’s a problem.

Joseph Camposeo, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said four states currently use such equipment.

“There is that technology to print on demand. Why can’t we do that?” he asked the panel.

Another initiative Merrill said she supports and will submit legislation for is to allow towns to collectively purchase ballots under the state’s auspices so they can save money through economies of scale.

Merrill said she is also crafting a model emergency plan to give towns, “So [election officials] know whom to turn to when the lights turn off.”