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Merrill's time in office has been highly consequential

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has faced perhaps the most unpredictable period in U.S. election history and rose to the challenge. More than that, as secretary she played a significant role in moving a state election process that has been among the most restrictive toward one that is becoming far more voter friendly.

Job well done.

We make note of that because Merrill on Wednesday announced that this, her third four-year term as secretary, will be her last. Merrill, 72, is set to leave office in January 2023 following the election of her successor in November 2022.

It was during Merrill’s second term that the nation learned of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. At the time, she was president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. Changes her office oversaw included improving cyber defenses at both the state and town level, from which Connecticut elections are largely controlled.

Then, in her third term, Connecticut — along with the rest of the world — confronted a pandemic the likes of which had not been seen in a century. And it coincided with a presidential election year.

In the runup to the 2020 election, Merrill took the unprecedented step in Connecticut of mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, rather than following the normal procedure of waiting for voters to request them. It was a controversial action, but it proved to be the right one.

Initially through executive order, and later with the approval of the legislature, the definition of “sickness” — one of the legally mandated explanations necessary to cast an absentee ballot — was broadened to include the threat posed by the coronavirus. An election that could have suffered from a fear-induced meager turnout, instead saw a record 1.86 million people vote, nearly 80% of registered voters in Connecticut.

Merrill has lobbied for changes that have improved registration access, including online registration, Election Day registration, and automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

And it has been during Merrill’s time in office that the legislature has moved to improve access to voting. In 2022 voters will be asked to approve a state constitutional amendment that would for the first time in the state allow early in-person voting. In 2024, it is expected voters will be asked to authorize no-excuse absentee voting via a constitutional change.

The state’s top elections’ official has served the voters well.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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