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September 15, 2023

CT advocacy groups push Lamont to fund new voting machines

TONY SPINELLI / CT PUBLIC Gov. Ned Lamont enters Greenwich High School Tuesday morning to cast his vote.

Several of Connecticut’s largest advocacy organizations are ramping up pressure on Gov. Ned Lamont and calling on the two-term Democrat to authorize funding for a new generation of voting equipment in Connecticut ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

The coalition, which includes the ACLU, League of Women Voters, AARP, Common Cause CT, Safe Vote CT and several other groups, issued a press release on Thursday imploring Lamont, who leads the State Bond Commission, to use that position to borrow millions of dollars to replace the state’s aging ballot tabulators.

They were joined in that effort by former Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who served more than a decade as Connecticut’s top election official.

“We’ve made great strides in expanding access to the ballot for all eligible voters in Connecticut,” said Merrill, a member of the coalition. “Let’s not take the chance that malfunctioning machines sabotage our laudable work.”

State lawmakers passed a bill during the 2023 legislative session, at the behest of current Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, enabling the state to borrow more than $25 million to replace the state’s aging ballot-counting equipment.

They did so after several high-profile malfunctions with the state’s existing ballot tabulators, which were first put into use at Connecticut polling places in 2006 and 2007.

The legislature’s passage of the bond funding did not mean that the secretary of the state could actually begin the process of purchasing the new equipment, however.

For that to happen, Lamont and the other members of the State Bond Commission need to vote to officially spend the money.

The bond commission, which also includes several lawmakers, members of Lamont’s administration, Treasurer Erick Russell, Comptroller Sean Scanlon and Attorney General William Tong, hold the purse strings when it comes to the state government borrowing money.

When asked on Thursday when he might add the tabulator funding to the bond commission agenda, Lamont told reporters it could be authorized in October.

“We’re going to get the voting machines done,” Lamont told reporters. “We’re going to get it done in the Bond Commission, and we’re going to get it done in time for the next election.”

Thomas, who took over as secretary of the state this year, said she would like the new ballot tabulators in place for the 2024 presidential elections, but she emphasized that rollout will take time.

The state will need to solicit proposals from numerous election equipment manufacturers before they can purchase new tabulators, and local election officials will need to be trained on the new technology prior to rolling it out on election day.

The state advocacy organizations are worried that schedule would be thrown off if Lamont doesn’t act in the next couple months to fund the 3,000 traditional tabulators and 40 high-speed tabulators Thomas asked for.

The groups emphasized that Connecticut lawmakers have taken several steps in recent years to make it easier for voters in the state to cast a ballot, including authorizing early in-person voting next year. But they said those changes are contingent on the state’s ballot tabulators holding up during high-turnout elections.

“Connecticut has made significant progress in expanding access to the ballot. However, without reliable tabulators, this progress is in jeopardy,” said Patricia Rossi, co-president of the League of Women Voters of CT. “We must act urgently to protect the foundation of our democracy.”

Lamont expressed confidence, however, that the state still has time to implement the new tabulators ahead of the presidential primaries next April.

“I think we’ll be fine. And, by the way, the voting machines have worked pretty well for the last 25 years, but we’re going to get the new ones in place,” Lamont said.

Local election officials are likely to get a look at the new generation of ballot tabulators next week.

The Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, which is a bipartisan group of the state’s election administrators, is holding a conference in Windsor, where at least one of the country’s voting equipment manufacturers will be showcasing its products.

Mark Pazniokas contributed to this report.

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