Connecticut Senate approves constitutional amendment for no-excuse absentee voting | Christopher Keating/Hartford Courant

The Connecticut Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to allow absentee voting for any reason in all elections. The resolution will now go to the public for a vote in November 2024. Currently, residents can only obtain an absentee ballot for specific reasons, such as sickness, physical disability, or serving overseas. The resolution has been controversial, with Republicans concerned about potential voter fraud. However, Democrats argue that the amendment is necessary to expand voting rights. Read Article

Connecticut House votes to join 46 other states with early, in-person voting | Christopher Keating/Hartford Courant

Following 46 other states, Connecticut legislators voted Thursday night to allow residents to vote earlier than Election Day for the first time. After more than four hours of debate, the state House of Representatives approved the bill by 107-35 with all negative votes coming from Republicans. The caucus was split as 15 Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the measure. The bill calls for early, in-person voting for 14 days before a general election in November, seven days before the statewide August primaries, and four days before special elections and presidential primaries. Local referendums on budgets and other issues are not included. The 33-section bill gives wide latitude to cities and towns to run their elections, but each municipality must have at least one early-voting location. The locations will be required to be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but have extended hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the last Tuesday and Thursday before statewide primaries and general elections. Early voting would not be enacted until the presidential primaries in early 2024 as vendors and local officials need time to prepare for the change.

Full Article: Connecticut could join other states in allowing early voting

Connecticut: Voting advocates, state legislators work to put state on the “cutting edge” of voter accessibility | Yash Roy/Yale Daily News

As federal efforts to protect voting access have stalled amid Republican opposition, Connecticut advocates are pushing the state legislators to protect voting rights in the state. The Connecticut Voting Rights Act, which has been dedicated to late Civil Rights Leader John Lewis, was passed by the Government and Elections Committee on Monday and now faces a vote in the State House. The bill will expand language accessibility at polling sites, require preclearance for voting rule changes in municipalities with a history of voter intimidation and allow voters to sue municipalities for laws or actions that are intimidatory or discriminatory. Meanwhile, advocacy groups across Connecticut are working with state legislators to pass legislation to enact the state constitutional amendment allowing for early voting. The amendment was proposed in a referendum in the 2022 midterm elections where state voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of the change. Prior to the referendum that authorized the amendment, Connecticut was one of four states that did not allow early voting. Legislators and advocacy groups are currently working to decide if the early voting period will be 14 or 18 days and if cities with larger populations will have more than one early voting location.

Full Article: Voting advocates, state legislators work to put Connecticut on the “cutting edge” of voter accessibility – Yale Daily News

Connecticut: Overheated voting machines and poll workers disrupted last week’s primaries | Sten Spinella/The Day

Voting machines throughout the state were damaged on primary Election Day due to high temperatures, election officials said this week. Norwich and Stonington registrars told The Day that multiple machines at polling locations in the two municipalities malfunctioned during the state’s primary election on Aug. 9. Approximately 50 machines were affected throughout the state, according to the Secretary of the State’s office. Machines that were not at air-conditioned polling locations partially “melted,” officials say, and were unable to tabulate vote totals. With low voter turnout and only Democratic and Republican primaries for the Secretary of the State and U.S. Senate, Norwich and Stonington election workers were not made to stay much later than usual to count ballots, and none of the vote counts were affected by the machine errors. Norwich had four tabulator machines “melt down” at two separate locations on Aug. 9, according to Republican Registrar Cheryl Stover. The malfunctioning machines were at Moriarty Elementary School and Stanton Elementary School. “At first we began opening new tabulators not knowing what was going on. Once we lost more tabulators we realized something is happening due to the heat,” Stover said. “At the end of the day we opened tabulators in air-conditioned facilities and ran all those ballots through. We only had to do that for one of our stations. We had three tabulators at that specific location that melted down during the day, so we were unable to get any numbers off of them because they were completely nonfunctional.”

Full Article: Meltdown: Overheated voting machines and poll workers disrupted last week’s primaries

Connecticut Governor signs bill aimed at widening mail-in voting opportunities | Ken Dixon/CTInsider

Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday signed legislation to allow more mail-in balloting, while state election officials prepare for a permanent change to the state Constitution that they hope to ask statewide voters in 2024. But Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who used federal pandemic relief funding to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in 2020, said that her office still needs a legal opinion on who will actually be eligible for mail-in voting this year. During a virtual news conference from the Governor’s Residence in Hartford, Lamont, who is quarantining himself after testing positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, said the new voting law had bipartisan support in the General Assembly and will give busy state residents, especially commuters, the ability to mail their ballots rather than be limited by the narrow list of reasons, including personal illness, in the state Constitution. “I want people voting,” Lamont said. “I want people to know that their vote matters. I want people to have a stake in the election and a stake in the outcome. I do believe that the more people who vote, vote with integrity, vote with safety, is the right thing to do for this state.”

Full Article: Lamont signs bill aimed at widening mail-in voting opportunities

Connecticut Bill easing access to absentee voting wins final passage | Mark Pazniokas/Hartford Courant

A bill that would allow out-of-town commuters and caretakers of the disabled or chronically ill to vote by absentee ballot won final legislative passage on a 30-4 vote in the Senate. The measure stops short of allowing no-excuse absentee voting, a step that would require passage of a referendum amending the Connecticut Constitution — something that cannot happen before the 2024 election. Instead, it amends statutory language that is more restrictive than the standard set in the constitution, which disenfranchises voters in some circumstances. The constitution empowers the General Assembly to allow absentee voting by anyone “unable to appear at the polling place on the day of election because of absence from the city or town of which they are inhabitants or because of sickness, or physical disability or … the tenets of their religion.”

Full Article: Bill easing access to absentee voting in Connecticut wins final passage – Hartford Courant

Connecticut: Bipartisan support in House to ease absentee voting | Mark Pazniokas/CT Mirror

Statutory restrictions on absentee voting that can deny ballot access to Connecticut voters in some circumstances would be repealed under legislation passed Monday on a 117-28 vote by the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate. Absentee ballots are unavailable to some voters with reasonable or even compelling excuses for not going to the polls: firefighters working 24-hour shifts, nurses anticipating overtime and parents home caring for sick or dying children. “We know there are thousands of people throughout the state in every election — commuters, health care professionals, people who have to take care of a family member who is sick or disabled — who cannot make it physically to the polls and can also not qualify under our current statutes to obtain an absentee ballot,” said Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford. The Connecticut Constitution empowers the General Assembly to allow absentee ballot voting only in cases of “absence from the city or town of which they are inhabitants or because of sickness, or physical disability or because the tenets of their religion forbid secular activity.” Separate from an effort to amend the state Constitution to allow no-excuse absentee voting, the bill would remove additional limits imposed by state law: Absences must be during “all hours of voting” and sickness and disability are defined as those of the voter.

Full Article: Bipartisan support in Connecticut House to ease absentee voting

Connecticut: Funding for Election Upgrades Won’t Change How State Votes | Nicole McIsaac/CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut has a total of $8.5 million in state and federal funds to upgrade its election structure, but it will be up to lawmakers to improve access to the ballot. “It is time for us to put aside our very restrictive voter access laws and move forward,” Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Wednesday. The financial investment, according to Bysiewicz, will ensure that elections remain free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters. Specific changes focus on modernizing the central voter registration system, election management system, and other pieces of infrastructure that have been in place for two decades. “The right to vote is the most precious civil right that we have,” Bysiewicz said. “COVID-19 proved that we had a lot of obstacles in making sure people were safe when they went to vote.” Connecticut has one of the oldest voter registration systems in the country and the current system is nearing the end of its functional life, according to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. “When we applied for this funding, we knew it was time to make some changes to modernize some of our election’s infrastructure,” Merrill said. State officials said the replacement of the central voter registration system as a way to enhance functionality and security, improve experience of voters and officiate flexibility when managing potential changes in future elections.

Full Article: Funding for Election Upgrades Won’t Change How Connecticut Votes | CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut: Paper Ballots Integral to Election Security | Alex Wood/Journal Inquirer

With election officials around the country under very public attack, Mark Dobbins, the Democratic registrar of voters in Glastonbury, wants Connecticut residents to know more about the procedures election officials here use to make sure that all legal votes — and only legal votes — are counted. One is the old-fashioned paper trail, which Connecticut election officials use for many records, including ballots. “We use a lot of paper, and you can’t hack paper,” Dobbins says. In addition, the tabulating machines that count ballots aren’t connected to the Internet and can’t be hacked into, he says. He adds that the tabulating machines are useless without memory cards. When the cards aren’t in use, he says, LHS Associates, an election services company based in Salem, New Hampshire, holds them securely. Gabe Rosenberg, general counsel to Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, says the University of Connecticut’s Center for Voting Technology Research, or VoTeR Center, takes the memory cards before and after the election to make sure there are no problems.

Full Article: Paper Ballots Integral to Connecticut Election Security

Connecticut secretary of the state urges Constitutional amendment allowing ‘no excuse’ absentee ballots | Kenneth R. Gosselin/Hartford Courant

After a strong turnout by absentee balloting in Tuesday’s election, Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced Wednesday she will propose an amendment to the state’s Constitution to allow for “no-excuse” voting by absentee ballot. “Connecticut voters have spoken, and they want options that make voting more convenient for them, just like voters across the country have,” Merrill said. “The availability of absentee ballots allowed more than 650,000 people to safely and conveniently cast their ballots and helped to drive what will ultimately be among the highest turnout elections in Connecticut history.” As of late afternoon Wednesday, the unofficial voter turnout number for Tuesday’s presidential election stood at 73%, as votes continue to be tabulated across Connecticut. Merrill has said that could climb close to 80%. The proposal drew immediate support from Connecticut’s two Congressional senators. “The success that we’ve had in Connecticut in expanding out absentee-ballot voting opportunities should cause us to once again try to fix the infirmities of our voting system in Connecticut and allow for universal mail-in voting and early in-person voting,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy said.

Full Article: Connecticut secretary of the state urges Constitutional amendment allowing ‘no excuse’ absentee ballots – Hartford Courant

Connecticut Election Officials Get Help From Governor To Pre-Process Absentee Ballots | Christine Stuart/CT News Junkie

Gov. Ned Lamont inked an executive order Thursday that will give a do-over to election officials in 19 Connecticut cities and towns who missed the deadline last week to declare their desire to begin opening absentee ballots early. Eighteen towns told Secretary of the State Denise Merrill before the Oct. 24 deadline that they planned to open the outer envelope of the absentee ballots early. A total of 19 cities and towns gave notice too late and would not have been able to start processing absentee ballots early if not for Lamont’s executive order. The General Assembly passed legislation that allows election officials to open the outer envelope of the absentee ballot starting at 5 p.m. today. Town clerks have received more than 567,000 absentee ballots. “Five days before the election the governor had to issue an executive order to allow for ballots to be opened so that people who voted by absentee can have their votes properly counted,’’ House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said. “Uncertainty remained, after months of lobbying by Secretary Merrill, which makes it harder to deliver clean elections in the minds’ of voters.’’

Full Article: Election Officials Get Help From Gov. To Pre-Process Absentee Ballots | CT News Junkie

Connecticut: Absentee voting expansion presents challenges for municipal governments | Sten Spinella/The Day

In response to the expansion of absentee voting provisions, municipal clerks in the region are dealing with an unprecedented amount of ballots and ballot applications this election cycle. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced town and city election officials to alter how they normally do business. Norwich Republican Registrar Dianne Slopak, for example, said the city has 10 people set up to count votes, though there are normally six to eight, depending on the election. She and other registrars have said they’re bracing for a delay in final election results. “We have no idea how long this will take,” Slopak said. “By law, we’re supposed to have preliminary results by midnight of the same day — that’s kind of crazy when you think about it. Registrars start working at 4 in the morning. You can imagine what condition we’re in by midnight. Ballot counters will be starting at about 10 in the morning.” Waterford Clerk David Campo, Groton Town Clerk Betsy Moukawsher, Montville Clerk Katie Sandberg and Slopak offered illustrative examples. In Waterford’s 2019 municipal election, 248 absentee ballots were issued. In its 2018 state election, 672 were issued. And in its 2018 state primary, 93 were issued. As of July 29, 1,853 were issued for the upcoming Aug. 11 primary alone. The number of absentee ballot requests for the Nov. 3 presidential election are expected to exceed that. 

Connecticut: House Overwhelmingly Approves No-Excuse Absentee Ballots | Christine Stuart/CTNewsJunkie

Republican lawmakers loudly objected to the ballot boxes Secretary of the State Denise Merrill bought for every town in Connecticut, but only two voted not to expand absentee ballots in the November election. The House voted 144-2 in favor of a bill that allows anyone concerned about going to the polls on election day to vote by absentee ballot. Reps. Whit Betts and Cara Pavalock-D’Amato of Bristol voted against the bill. Republicans argued that they don’t want to suppress the vote in November. “It’s not about voter suppression as I heard before,” Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said. “It really is about making sure every vote is counted.” Candelora said the absentee ballot process isn’t as simple when you engage in it. He said many of these absentee ballots are often done incorrectly when they don’t have the ability to ask the town clerk questions.

Connecticut: A challenge to expanded absentee ballot use loses again in court, for the second time in two days | Edmund H. Mahony/Hartford Courant

The widespread use of absentee ballots in the August primary election grew more certain Tuesday when another judge – the second to do so in two days – rejected an argument by four Republican candidates that expanded use of the ballots is illegal. Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher rejected the central claim in a suit by the candidates that an emergency pandemic order by Gov. Ned Lamont expanding absentee ballot access is illegal because only the General Assembly has the authority to decide who can vote absentee. The suit landed before Moukawsher Tuesday because a day earlier Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson dismissed the it on technical grounds, saying it had been improperly filed with that court. After hearing an hour of argument by video conference, Moukawsher issued a brief order rejecting the contention that the governor, under the state Constitution, lacks the authority to expand or restrict the use of absentee ballots. He said a written opinion would be forthcoming.

Connecticut: Judge Refuses to Block Mailing of Absentee Ballots | Christine Stuart/Courthouse News

Four Republicans running for Congress chose the wrong venue to challenge Connecticut’s mailing of absentee ballots to all eligible voters, the chief of the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. While the candidates styled their complaint as an original jurisdiction proceeding in the state Supreme Court, counsel for the state emphasized in a motion to dismiss that the law permitting such challenges “applies only to elections, not primaries.” Chief Justice Richard Robinson tossed the case Monday afternoon shortly after holding remote arguments on the motion. With the Connecticut primary scheduled for Aug. 11, Secretary of State Denise Merrill is set to mail the absentee ballots on Tuesday, having already mailed applications to all 1.25 million of Connecticut’s registered voters. In a 1-page order, the chief wrote that an original proceeding under state law 9-323 “is not a proper vehicle to challenge a ruling of an election official with respect to a primary.”

Connecticut: GOP voter fraud task force heightens dispute over balloting | Kaitlyn Krasselt/CTPost

With an eye on November, the state Republican Party has taken its concern for potential voter fraud to a new level, creating its own citizen task force to record and investigate cases of potential fraud. Party Chairman J.R. Romano, who has said he’s not opposed to expanding mail-in balloting, rails against the state’s decision to mail absentee ballot applications to every active voter eligible to vote in the upcoming August primary — about 1.2 million people — claiming the practice will lead to widespread voter fraud. “If someone reported to us that they got an absentee ballot application for someone that has been dead for 12 years, we’re going to investigate to see if this person has actually cast a ballot to be listed as an active voter,” Romano said. The task force would ease reporting of possible abuses to party and elections officials. But as Democrats see it, charges of fraud in elections are a Republican lie and a task force is not needed. “The last 30 years of voting statistics in Connecticut prove that voting by absentee ballot is not a problem, and has never been a problem, in Connecticut,” said state Sen. Mae Flexer, who co-chairs the legislature’s Government Administration & Elections Committee. “The Connecticut Republican Party has got to stop parroting President Trump’s lies about voter fraud, and it has to stand up for democracy and individual rights.”

Connecticut: Another suit seeks to expand absentee voting in an already litigious election year | Edmund H. Mahony/Hartford Courant

In what is shaping up as a litigious election season, a new lawsuit was filed Thursday to force the state to expand access to absentee ballots in the November election as a precaution against the coronavirus — a day after another suit argued that doing so would increase the likelihood of election fraud. Connecticut’s laws limiting the exercise of absentee ballots are among the country’s most restrictive, and the run-up to the next two elections — an Aug. 11 primary and Nov. 3 general election — has put COVID-19 at the center of the argument between those who want to expand access and those who don’t. The American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court Thursday to force the state to make absentee ballots available to every eligible Connecticut voter in November. Failing to do so during a pandemic, when waiting in long poll lines could increase viral transmission, is a violation of the right to vote, the suit claims. The ACLU sued on behalf of a voting rights group, an elderly voter vulnerable to viral infection and the NAACP. The suit claims Blacks in Connecticut suffer disproportionately from health and voter access problems as victims of years of systemic racism. It filed similar ballot suits in Texas, Louisiana and Minnesota.

Connecticut: Republicans sue to block Lamont emergency COVID order permitting all-absentee ballot primary election | Edmund H. Mahony/Hartford CourantHartford Courant

Four Republican candidates for Congress are trying to block the state from implementing an emergency pandemic order by Gov. Ned Lamont that could dramatically increase the use of absentee ballots for the state’s delayed Aug. 11 primary by distributing them to any voter who claims to be worried about contracting the coronavirus at the polls. The candidates are part of a group called Fight Voter Fraud and their suit targets Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the state’s chief election officer. The suit contends Merrill has interpreted the emergency order so broadly that the absentee ballot applications prepared by her office encourage absentee voting by everyone, putting the integrity of primary elections at risk. “Today Fight Voter Fraud Inc. filed a lawsuit with the Connecticut Supreme Court on behalf of candidates on the August 11, 2020 ballot who wish to have a fair, honest, and constitutional election.,” the candidates said in a statement. “The lawsuit asks the Court to order (Secretary of the State) Denise Merrill to stop sending voters applications that misinform about the true legal requirements for voting by absentee ballot.”

Connecticut: Voters will be allowed to cast mail-in ballots for the presidential primary if a COVID-19 vaccine isn’t available by August | Zach Murdock/Hartford Courant

Every Connecticut voter will be able to cast a mail-in or drop-off absentee ballot in the state’s delayed-to-August presidential primary election if no COVID-19 vaccine is widely available by then, per a new executive order issued Wednesday by Gov. Ned Lamont. The order comes the same day that President Donald Trump blasted officials in Michigan and Nevada for their plans to send absentee ballot applications to millions of voters — as Connecticut already had announced — and said that he would withhold some unspecified funding from those states in retaliation. Lamont shrugged off the president’s threats at his daily coronavirus news briefing Wednesday afternoon, and pledged to work toward a similar measure for the upcoming November general election.

Connecticut: State making plans to protect elections from cyber threats, pandemic | Joe Wojtas/The Day

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is scheduled Monday afternoon to announce a plan to secure election systems across the state from cyberattack this fall and prepare polling places to safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates outlined the challenges the state faces to ensure a safe and secure election in an op-ed published Monday in The Day. “We’re trying to do all we can do before this election to address the twin challenges of the pandemic and cyber security,” he told The Day on Sunday. Bates said the state will be using more than $15 million in federal funding to ensure outside groups can not interfere with the election and to make polls safe for both voters and workers.

Connecticut: State will send absentee ballot applications to all voters for primary and November elections amid concern that coronavirus could disrupt voting | Emily Brindley/Hartford Courant

Under her new plan to ensure safe and secure voting this year, Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said she will send out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in the state and pay the postage for their ballots. But that doesn’t mean that every voter in the state will be legally eligible to vote by ballot. Under state law — which is not being modified for Merrill’s plan — fear of catching the coronavirus at the polls doesn’t necessarily qualify someone for an absentee ballot. Merrill said Monday that she would like Gov. Ned Lamont or the General Assembly to provide more guidance to her office. “It is within my office’s authority … to interpret the statute,” Merrill said. “I am completely sympathetic to the issues that people have. I think it’s unconscionable that we would make people decide their health versus their vote.” The absentee ballot initiative is among Merrill’s priorities for the August presidential primary and November general election. Under Merrill’s plan, her office will also provide grants to municipalities, recruit and train general election poll workers and launch a public awareness campaign.

Connecticut: Calls for mail-in voting as city halls remain closed, registrars of voters work remotely amid pandemic | Tina Detelj/WTNH

With city and town hall employees working remotely, and most residents self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the calls are getting louder for everybody to be able to mail in their votes during the next election or primary if they want to.  The days of long lines at polling places may soon be a thing of the past, at least for now. In New London, city hall remains closed to the public, as registrars of voters across the state continue to work remotely and this pandemic continues to concern many. This could mean more absentee ballots and changes to state law to allow more people to be able to do this. And it could also mean more work for local registrars of voters. A group of forty organizations is calling on Governor Ned Lamont to issue an executive order which would make it easier for anyone to vote through the mail instead of in-person during this pandemic. “People should not have to put their lives on the line in order to be able to vote,” said Tom Swan, Executive Director, CCAG, CT Citizen Action Group.

Connecticut: Presidential primary pushed back two more months to Aug. 11 due to coronavirus concerns | Christopher Keating/Hartford Courant

In a second delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Connecticut’s presidential primary will be pushed back to Aug. 11. Gov. Ned Lamont made the announcement Friday that he was acting in concert with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the state’s chief elections official, to postpone the date by an additional two months. The primary was originally scheduled for April 28, the same day as New York, Rhode Island and other states, but Lamont pushed that back to June 2. He then made the second postponement Friday. The state has already set aside Aug. 11 as the day for Republican and Democratic primaries for Congress, state legislature and local offices. As a result, towns will save money by opening polling places once, instead of twice. Since local conventions have not yet been held, the candidates for those primaries will not be settled until the coming weeks and months.

Connecticut: Governor says primaries moved to June | Kate Sullivan/CNN

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday that the state’s primaries have been moved to June 2, making Connecticut the sixth state to postpone its elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. “In coordination with other states and our Secretary of the State, and in an effort to carry out Democracy while keeping public health a top priority, I have decided to move our presidential primary to June 2nd,” Lamont tweeted. Connecticut’s Democratic and Republican primaries had been scheduled to take place on April 28. Over the past week, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Ohio also postponed their primaries, citing public health concerns over coronavirus. Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill tweeted that the decision to move the primaries was made after consulting with Lamont, local election officials, bipartisan leadership in the General Assembly and colleagues in other states.

Connecticut: Voting security in Connecticut: Not another Iowa, but other threats persist | Westfair

If you ask Connecticut’s Secretary of the State Denise Merrill if the state is in danger of repeating the infamous Iowa caucus debacle when tallying its primary and general election results this year, you will get a hearty laugh. “That’s not going to happen here,” she said. The reason, Merrill said, is simple: Connecticut’s voting process relies on paper ballots “that undergo a rigorous post-election audit and (is) run by election professionals at the state and local level. Although it may take a little longer to report results, Connecticut’s reliance on paper is our best defense against threats to our cybersecurity.” The Feb. 3 Iowa Democratic caucus, whose victor, Pete Buttigieg, wasn’t finalized until Feb. 9, was marred by the use of a vote tabulation app called Shadow, whose enormous technical errors contributed significantly to a three-day delay in reporting results. The Shadow app was distributed through mobile app testing platform TestFairy, instead of official app stores on Android and iOS, which boast higher security and performance requirements. The poor performance has already caused other states that had contracted Shadow to tally their results, like Nevada, to cancel those plans, and has resulted in any number of late-night TV hosts’ wisecracks.

Connecticut: Merrill, Blumenthal share how Connecticut will spend new federal funds to defend voting systems in the 2020 election | Amanda Blanco/Hartford Courant

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal met Thursday to discuss how Connecticut will spend an expected $5 million more in federal funds to strengthen election security for the 2020 election. The initiative follows a previous $5 million allocated to the state in 2018 for the same purpose. While House Democrats originally called for $1 billion to go toward the national cybersecurity effort, funds were cut to $425 million by the time the bill made it out of the Senate. Blumenthal called it a “solid first step,” but acknowledged that there needs to be a “sustained, steady source of money for election security annually” to combat international interference. Fund distribution is decided by the federal Election Assistance Committee and is based on measures like population and severity of need, Merrill said. She expects a large portion of the money to go toward training local officials, as the state has an unusual voting infrastructure. While most states conduct elections at the county level, Connecticut conducts elections town-by-town. “It would be tough to hack all 169 towns,” Merrill said. On the other hand, the state is tasked with ensuring every single town has the proper infrastructure to support the security needed to protect voter files, which were attacked in 2016. “Our voter files can be entered at any of those 169 drop points, so we have to make sure that every single official in every single town understands the need for that security,” she said.

Connecticut: Chief elections official says Connecticut’s electronic voting machines are ‘coming to the end of their useful life’ | Mark Pazniokas/CT Mirror

Connecticut’s current system of casting and counting votes has its roots in the chaotic presidential election of 2000. With the winner unclear for a month, it was a frightening moment in U.S. politics that led to a bipartisan consensus about the need to maintain confidence in the integrity of elections. Passage of the federal Help Americans Vote Act in 2002 established broad standards for the conduct of elections and provided funding for new hardware, leading Connecticut in 2006 to abandon its old mechanical lever voting machines for a mix of the old and new — paper ballots counted by computer-driven tabulators. “We fortunately made the right choice,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Wednesday. A proposed Voter Empowerment Act now before Congress would make hybrid systems like Connecticut’s the new federal standard: Using computers to quickly count votes, while maintaining paper ballots as a check on computer hacking and other forms of cyber fraud. President Trump recently endorsed paper ballots on Twitter. But as Merrill and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal made clear Wednesday at a press conference on elections security, the technical and political challenges in protecting U.S. elections are far more complex today than in the aftermath of the Florida recount in the Bush-Gore campaign of 2000. Blumenthal arrived at Merrill’s state Capitol office with his right arm in a sling. He had surgery last week for a torn rotator cuff.