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Former CT election boss on early voting ballot question: 'It gives people more opportunity to vote'

Voters cast their ballots during early voting at a polling station at Truman College in Chicago, Ill.
Joshua Lott
AFP / Getty Images
Voters cast their ballots during early voting at a polling station at Truman College in Chicago.

Connecticut voters on Nov. 8 will see a question on their ballot about early voting. It will ask voters if the state Constitution should be amended to allow in-person early voting. Former Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is leading the "Yes for Freedom to Vote Early" campaign. She spoke with Morning Edition's Lori Mack about why she thinks it's a crucial step in the democratic process.

Lori Mack: What is early voting?

Denise Merrill: People have been so focused on absentee balloting that I think it gets a little bit mixed up between the two. Early voting is simply having other days besides Tuesday to vote in person in Connecticut.

We are one of the last states to provide that opportunity for our voters. Forty-six other states already do it — have been doing it for years. Because of a quirk, I would say, in our state Constitution, we haven't been able to change the law quickly.

Mack: As you pointed out, Connecticut is one of only four states that do not have early voting. The others are Alabama, Mississippi and New Hampshire.

What has been the argument against early voting? I've heard at least one saying that the cost is prohibitive. What are you hearing?

Merrill: That has been the only one that I've heard articulated, that it might cost our small towns more money to stay open. People that say that haven't looked around the country to see how it's done. For example, in Florida, they don't open all the polling places, they just open ones that are open already — town hall, libraries and so forth.

Those people are trained to accept ballots. And it works very smoothly. And it gives people more opportunity to vote. I mean, a lot of people can't take off work on a Tuesday to go vote. And that's really the primary driver of this initiative.

Mack: In this era of false claims of election fraud, why do you think early voting makes sense?

Merrill: Well, you have to remember, this is not absentee balloting, you have to show up in person to vote just as you would on Election Day.

So it's just you have more days to do that, for example, I would suggest maybe three to five days earlier, maybe over the weekend, just before the Tuesday.

And that means you are showing up in person and this whole argument, which I think is very much overblown, that somehow people are voting who shouldn't be or who are on the list and shouldn't be, you're showing up in person, you're showing your credentials just as you would on Election Day.

So that means that fraud is really not an issue with early voting.

Mack: Why do you care so much about this issue?

Merrill: I've seen a lot of elections, I've seen a lot of problems on Election Day, some of them not man-made. For example, 2011, 2012, we had major storms, we had polling places underwater, we had trees down, you know, we've had it all.

This means we have more time to make sure the election goes well. I like to say, our Election Day is kind of like if you've ever given a wedding for somebody in your family, that one day has to go off without a hitch. And I have to say my daughter's wedding did not go off without a hitch.

We need more days to be able to make it go smoothly. And that's not even to mention presidential years; there are many towns that have very long lines.

I hate that because I think that's the biggest barrier of all to voting, which is who has time to stand in line for two or three hours? And I've seen that even in places like West Hartford. I mean, it's not just the cities. So it's really a barrier for people. This will enable many more people to be able to vote more conveniently.

Mack: You were co-chair of the elections committee of the National Association of Secretaries of State. How has early voting been going in other states?

Merrill: You have to remember many of these states have been doing it for over a decade. So actually, early voting is not so much the problem in those places, as are the many other dynamics going on in our elections right now.

Elections are so divisive. I'm personally very concerned that we will never have an uncontested election again in this country. And so that puts the pressure on the election system in a way that's even more difficult if you're trying to do everything in one day.

I really think that is more the issue in places like Georgia, Florida, even, you know, some of the swing states where there's so much pressure on this coming election. I really don't think that early voting is the problem there.

Mack: The ballot measure is just one step in the process. If voters were in favor of early voting, what's the next step? And what is the question that we'll see on the ballot?

Merrill: It's very short and very simple actually. "Shall the Constitution of the state be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?" And the reason we have to have this on the ballot is because right now the state Constitution, not statute, says only on Tuesday can people vote.

That's the impediment to us being able to change and move with the times, but this way all the citizens in the state have an opportunity to vote to say, do we want this or not?

And then the General Assembly will have to act during the next session, perhaps as early as the next session, to put in place whatever model we choose for Connecticut. This is not a partisan issue.

In the General Assembly, when we voted to put this on the ballot, it was a healthy bipartisan vote. And I think we're so used now these days to having everything be so partisan.

This is something that is not, this is good for everyone. Democrats, Republicans, unaffiliated, whoever you are, this is going to make it easier for you to vote. And I think that's important to remember.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Lori Connecticut Public's Morning Edition host.
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