Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. mark pazniokas / file photo
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. (file photo) mark pazniokas / file photo

President Donald J. Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the popular vote for president promises to complicate the tenure of Connecticut’s Denise Merrill as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State.

It is a non-partisan organization generally ignored by the national press, but its winter meeting next month in Washington, D.C., comes as Trump insists his administration will press for an ill-defined inquiry that apparently will not be based on the legal standard of probable cause.

“To react to that is difficult,” Merrill said Wednesday as Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, briefed reporters on the potential scope of the inquiry that he says may delve into elections prior to 2016. “You don’t know exactly what you’re reacting to.”

Merrill, a Democrat elected as secretary of the state in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, said the same was true when the Obama administration in its final days declared election infrastructure as “critical” and in need of federal protection, a reaction to cyber-security concerns.

“There was a very non-partisan response, which was, ‘Why? What does this mean? What is this all about ?’ This is raising the same questions for very different reasons,” Merrill said. “There is some common ground. The Republican secretaries of state are as put off by the idea of a federal intervention in local elections as Democrats are.”

Spicer mischaracterized a 2012 report from the Pew Center on the States to suggest it concluded that many voters cast votes in two states or that votes were cast using names of the dead.

The report found that 1.8 million dead voters still were on the rolls, a fact it attributed to the inefficiencies of the voter registration system. The report alleged no fraud, and its author, David Becker, said Tuesday on Twitter, “As I’ve noted before, voting integrity better in this election than ever before. Zero evidence of fraud.”

Connecticut is one of the states that’s joined a consortium organized by Pew to create a common database intended to catch duplicate registrations that are inevitable in a mobile society. (In fact, as CNN reported Wednesday, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his nominee for Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, were registered in two states.

“So, a lot of work’s been done. The lists are a lot cleaner than they used to be. But there’s always going to be a lot of mobility,” Merrill said. “The question is, does this merit some sort of federal intervention or investigation.”

Without evidence, Trump has blamed his loss of the popular vote on more than three million votes cast by non-citizens.

Decades of investigations by state elections officials in Connecticut show that proven fraud is exceedingly rare, but when it does occur it is most likely to be committed with an absentee ballot in a nursing home or someone’s apartment, not by an imposter at the polls.

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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