Secretary of the State Denise Merrill spoke about her office's current endeavors and future plans for increasing participation via improvements to the Connecticut voting system at the Wilton Kiwanis Club’s May 11 meeting at WEPCO.

She started off by harkening back to the “good old days.”

“In my day, it was considered a duty to go vote,” Merrill said. “You would never have said in the 1950s, ‘I don’t think I’ll get around to voting today.’ That would have been very socially unacceptable, don’t you think?”

Merrill disclaimed that her remarks don’t take into account a certain “revolution” happening now in politics that “nobody’s figured out yet.”

“But in general, you have to realize, that of all the eligible voters in this country, about a third of those aren't even registered to vote, much less voting,” she said.

Voter turnout statistics, according to Merrill, only consider registered voters, and when you take that into account, dismal participation starts to look even more dismal.

“Where are people?” Merrill asked. “What is going on?”

The secretary of the state said she and her office are confronting the lack of participation head on, and in a number of ways. One of these is through technology.

“We have the technology now that really does help, so we’ve set about to modernize many pieces of our voting system,” Merrill said. “Mostly, we’re trying to make it easy and pleasurable to register to vote.”

With that in mind, Merrill and her office put in place an online voter registration system, which can be accessed now via VoterRegistration.CT.Gov/OLVR/welcome.do.

“It’s been in place for about a year and a half, and I can tell you already, about 60% of new registrations we’re getting are online,” Merrill said.

“I tell you, that’s what people want,” she said. “You do everything that way now; you do everything online, and that’s what people expect, and it’s working, and it’s also more accurate, because you don’t have to figure out somebody’s handwriting.”

In an effort to quell confusion, and to make things easier in general, Merrill’s office also implemented election day registration in Connecticut.

“There’s about 15 states that have this,” Merrill said. “Let’s say you forgot to change your voter registration, or didn’t even realize you had to. Before this, there was nothing we could do about that; you just didn’t get to vote.”

“Now if that happens you can go to town hall and you can register and vote on the spot if you have the proper identification, so this, again, is a way we can make things smoother and make things work more efficiently,” Merrill said.

Merrill explained that while some people don’t know this, her office is also the business registry for the state, and she made an early announcement of her next major business initiative.

“What we’ve done is, we put all the business filings online — it just went online last week, and we’re going to make an announcement this week — so you can now form your business completely online, and you can pay for it online,” Merrill said.

Several Kiwanians asked Merrill questions after she concluded her talk.

“Both the state and especially the town pay a lot for primary elections, yet they have no control over the rules. Shouldn’t the state and the towns be more involved in these rules?” asked one.

“I would say if anything it should go the other way,” Merrill said, meaning that party functions should be entirely self-funded and the state shouldn’t have to pay anything.

“What about the population that does not have a driver’s license?” asked another. “And illegal people, that get some kind of identification that makes them seem eligible when they aren’t?”

“I know there’s been this raging debate about voter fraud and all the illegal people voting. We just haven’t seen it, at all,” Merrill said.

“A couple years ago, there was a movement for early voting,” one man said. “Do you think there’s any likelihood of that getting revived?”

“I am determined to bring it back,” Merrill answered, “because it really would help us with election management. I don’t know how much I am for early voting, because it’s expensive, but I think opting for Saturday, we should look at that.”

The Bulletin asked the secretary why, when there is election day registration, there’s no primary election day registration, and if Merrill has any future plans to implement the feature.

“I think that election day registration ought to be available on primary day as well,” she answered. “It was in our original legislation proposal, and then through the process, some legislators didn’t like it so they took it out, but I think now they’d be willing to put it back,”

Asked to explain herself, Merrill said, “It was coming from the cities. They were concerned because primary is their election day. They didn’t know much about it; they weren’t sure how it was going to impact their elections, and I think now it’s proven so successful that I think there would not be the same resistance.”

“I’m for it,” Merrill said.

Wilton's Registrars of Voters Tina Gardner and Carole Young-Kleinfeld were in attendance, and before her speech, Merrill acknowledged them personally, saying, "I work with Carol and Tina, and I want to say, your two registrars are leaders in the state."