Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill was optimistic Wednesday about the prospect of an orderly Election Day next Tuesday, though she warned that her office continues to monitor nearly 100 polling places — and possibly more — that remain out of power.
Connecticut’s chief elections official also said that despite the massive flood damage along the shoreline and the widespread power outages, none of Connecticut’s communities have sought to relocate polling places.
“The election will go on,” Merrill told Capitol reporters during a midday news conference, adding that municipal officials showed in recent meetings they are ready to press on with Tuesday’s vote.
“They seem to be carrying on,” she said. “Most of the town halls are up and running.”
Merrill noted that a nor’easter featuring massive winds and up to 2 feet of snow throughout much of Connecticut hit the state last year on Oct. 29 — the same date Sandy arrived this year. “It feels like we had sort of a dress rehearsal,” she said.
State law doesn’t have any provision for postponing the election, and Merrill noted that all election machines are capable of functioning on battery power.
There are 773 polling places statewide spread across the state’s 169 cities and towns.
Connecticut Light & Power, which provides electric service to about 80 percent of the state’s residences and businesses, has confirmed that about 100 polling places in its service area lack power, Merrill said.
But there could be even more places out of power. Merrill said she hadn’t received a report as of noon Wednesday from United Illuminating, which serves some or all of 17 communities along the shoreline in central and western Connecticut.
UI spokesman Michael West said the utility hadn’t received a list of municipal polling places within its territory until 11 a.m. Wednesday, and began an immediate assessment. “We’re working on that list,” he said, adding that UI hopes to complete that assessment later today.
Merrill added that she remains confident the state’s electric utilities are making restoration of power at polling places a top priority.
No communities have sought to shift polling places to date. “So far people aren’t making that call yet,” Merrill said, adding that such a move would be “very confusing” for many voters. Half of all communities have just one polling place.
Another major concern, the secretary said, is getting absentee ballots to those residents who may be stuck in their homes because of flooding, downed power lines or fallen trees.
State law allows voters to cast absentee ballots for a number of reasons, including illness and disability, conflicting military duties and various responsibilities that could force a voter to be out of town.
But the state Constitution does not allow for what has been termed “no excuses” absentee balloting, or allowing a voter to cast an absentee ballot for just any reason. “It’s still a frustration to me personally,” Merrill said, adding that “we do have a law on the way to fix that.”
The legislature adopted a resolution last spring to begin the process of amending the Constitution to allow this and other modifications to election law. But because the House and Senate each failed to pass the measure with at least a three-fourths majority, it must be considered a second time.
If it is adopted again in the 2013 legislative session — even if only by a bare majority in each chamber — then the proposed constitutional amendment would go before voters for potential ratification during the 2014 state elections.
The deadline for potential voters to register to cast a ballot on Election Day originally was this past Tuesday, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy extended that deadline until 8 p.m. Thursday, because of the hurricane. Merrill said she has had discussions with the governor about another extension through Friday, but no decision has been made yet.
Residents who fail to meet the registration deadline still can cast a ballot for president only. Under state law, citizens can obtain a presidential ballot at town or city hall from their municipal clerk up to the close of business on Election Day.
Merrill declined to speculate on how the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy could impact Election Day turnout.
“There’s no way of telling.” In some communities, with little damage and almost no outages “by Tuesday this could be a memory in many places” but “certainly not along the shoreline and probably not in Fairfield County. It didn’t change turnout much last year.”
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