Last week, Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called in State Capitol reporters to watch her put the wraps on the 2012 elections. By law, Merrill, along with the State Treasurer and State Comptroller, must “declare what persons are elected” in writing and certify those results by the last Wednesday of the month of election.
“By certifying these election results, we are officially putting into the record books the final word on one of the more exciting and historic elections in the history of our state,” said Merrill. “Overall, I commend the hard work done by local election administrators and poll workers to make sure the election ran as smoothly as it did.”
The word “overall” is important because not everything went smoothly. One local official refused to send certain documents about the election results to the Secretary of the State, claiming he’d already transmitted what was required by law. Merrill didn’t agree, but said it wasn’t all that important. For years, the Secretary of the State’s office has had icy relations with some local elections officials—and it’s not a reflection on Merrill. Many of her predecessors experienced the same problem.
There is only so much “guidance” Merrill can offer to local officials. Her power to enforce procedures is limited. For the most part, administration of elections is a local duty. Therein lies the source of many election day problems.
Voters have complained for years about not being on the voter rolls, when they know darn well that they have registered. They also grumble about long lines at polling places, not enough polling place personnel, not enough knowledgeable polling place personnel.
When local budgets are tight local officials often try to save money by not ordering a ton of ballots, or by consolidating polling places. Both of those actions have caused problems.
In the 2010 gubernatorial election a ballot shortage cropped up in Bridgeport, delaying the final tally that resulted in the election of Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy. This year, when voter interest was high because of the hotly-contested presidential election and the U.S. Senate election in Connecticut, long lines developed at many polling places.
Merrill conceded waiting in a long line to vote is annoying, but she added: “Frankly for such a high turnout election that’s not a bad problem to have.” In other words, a lot of people interested enough to come out and vote is far better than voter apathy.
However, Merrill wants to deal with the jam-up in the future. “There may be some ways through legislation that we can address that issue,” said Merrill. “I really think we need to not have long lines, because it does disenfranchise people.”
One new twist is that Merrill will be seeking critiques from voters about the election process. “Is there anything about voting you’d like to see changed in Connecticut,” Merrill asked. “To get feedback, we’ve established a new e-mail address: email@example.com and we’re asking people to think about their voting experience and send us an e-mail.”
As part of the election data wrap-up, Merrill revealed that the turnout for the 2012 elections in Connecticut is pegged at about 74%. That figure is lower than the most recent prior presidential election year 2008, when the turnout was 78%. Still, Merrill called the result “a very healthy turnout” given that this year was not without its obstacles.
“We had a major hurricane and that certainly may have made a difference,” said Merrill. “Despite the challenges we faced, Connecticut voters went to the polls with a very strong turnout.” Merrill and other state officials pressed electric utilities to insure that all polling places without power due to the storm, would have power by Election Day. All but two could be restored, and those two locations were moved in time for the election.
As it turns out, storm-plagued Connecticut still came in as the seventh highest state in the nation for voter turnout. Minnesota, the traditional leader was first again at 88%, followed by Wisconsin at 83%.
The Secretary of the State’s office also does a town-by-town tally of voter turnout. This year, kudos for the highest town turnout go to Bridgewater in the northwest corner which posted a turnout of nearly 95%. Of course, rural Bridgewater has a population of about 1900 people, so maybe that doesn’t seem like much of an achievement. Midddletown, a small city, came in second with a turnout of nearly 90%.
In case you are wondering, the community with the lowest voter turnout was the city of Bridgeport. Just 52% of the electorate went to the polls. There’s always next time.
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