Bringing voting into a new century

Connecticut should consider itself fortunate when it comes to improving its election system. The Office of Secretary of the State developed a comprehensive blueprint for Connecticut's future election system - a plan voters should embrace if they want a smoother road to the polls while ensuring their votes count, as they most certainly should in a healthy democracy.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill's 2012 Election Performance Report grew out of the 2010 Bridgeport ballot predicament, when the former secretary of the state said election officials ordered less than a third of the ballots needed for the 69,000 registered city voters.

Investigating that election failure ultimately led to an in-depth look at the state's election system process, and Secretary Merrill found layer upon layer upon layer of needed improvements - from increasing voter registration and participation to streamlining the absentee ballot process and investing in voting technology.

An 18-member task force comprised of state and local elections officials, municipal government representatives, voting advocates and academics produced the 36-page report that offers myriad recommendations that we support toward the goal of bringing more eligible voters to the polls while securing election process integrity.

As stated previously, we agree with current proposed legislation - same-day registration, absentee voting, streamlining and increasing penalties for voter intimidation and interference - that emanated from the secretary's report. Voters already can register the day before a primary, so registering on Election Day is not a big leap; state research shows only one case of such fraud being prosecuted since 1998; absentee balloting is overly cumbersome and overly inclusive, and while fraud does occur, it happens so rarely, it should not exclude the many more deserving citizens to exercise their right to vote.

The report goes further, suggesting Election Day be declared a holiday. We should join the seven states that made Election Day a statewide holiday and create a designated opportunity for citizens to vote.

We encourage the secretary to continue her many-faceted efforts, among them to further study regionalization and centralization of voting. Regional voting centers would consolidate polls in urban areas and offer voters opportunities to cast their votes near their jobs, homes or children's day care centers.

Connecticut needs to join an interstate data consortium currently being built by the Pew Center on the States. The system would allow participating states to streamline processes for registering voters, updating records of existing voters and removing duplicate and invalid records from state voter files.

Another recommendation calls for polling locations to be in the same places for district and local elections as they are for state elections. This currently is not the case statewide and makes sense to implement and avoid the confusion of showing up at the wrong polling place.

More than 20 recommendations, if implemented after sound discourse, would bring more people to the polls and less confusion to the process.

This is the future of Connecticut elections, according to the report: Online security will have progressed enough in 10 years for military and overseas voters to cast online ballots within a window of a few weeks before Election Day. Regional centers, replacing traditional polling locations, will open to allow citizens to cast votes anytime in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Election costs will shift and likely drop, as temporary staff and overtime at election time is mitigated by technology. Voter registration will follow a person nationwide, with moves from state to state. Military and overseas voter participation will increase dramatically with the advent of remote online voting.

This is the future. Don't let it slip from our grasp. A healthy democracy depends on it.

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