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Connecticut Secretary of the State Merrill will not run for reelection

Denise Merrill, secretary of the state since 2011, announced Wednesday that she would not run for another term.

Speaking at a news conference outside the state Capitol, Merrill said she is not retiring from politics but instead will continue her work on expanding voting access. She announced her intention now in order to give would-be candidates time to prepare and campaign.

The secretary of the state has led efforts for sweeping changes to election law during her time in the role. She spoke of some of her accomplishments on Wednesday.

"We made it easier for Connecticut citizens to register to vote by setting up online voter registration, Election Day registration, and automatic voter registration through the DMV, and now beyond," she said. "Besides helping voters more easily register to vote, these reforms also helped our hardworking local election officials, of both parties, in each of Connecticut's 169 towns, to keep accurate voter rolls."

"We are now using new tools to help keep the voter rolls more accurate, including the sharing of information with other states," she said.

Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates, a resident of Stonington, said Wednesday that he has "no plans to run" to replace Merrill.

"It's been the honor of a lifetime to work on the same team as Denise Merrill," he said. "We've been able to make historic advances in voting rights in Connecticut, and my focus is going to be on making sure our office finishes strong."

Merrill became something of a lightning rod for controversy for voting policy initiatives implemented due to the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats supported her overwhelmingly, while Republicans claimed her office was helping to get around state statutes to ensure Democratic Party power in Hartford for years to come.

Merrill's stance on changing the voting process in 2020 to open it up to more absentee voters has always been that the more people who are able to vote in Connecticut, the better.

"COVID-19 changed everything. A deadly virus that passed through person-to-person contact put tremendous stress on an election system designed for one day of voting in school cafeterias and town halls throughout our state," she said. "My staff and I started meeting in February, and working with the registrars, the town clerks, the legislature and the governor, we were able to plan, design and implement a system where every Connecticut voter was able to safely participate in the 2020 election."

Merrill's office also has led the push for no-excuse absentee voting and early voting in Connecticut. State voters could choose to adopt by referendum early voting in 2022 and no-excuse absentee voting in 2024.

Merrill concluded her speech on Wednesday by acknowledging her future plans.

"I look forward to continuing to work on my twin passions — expanding access to the franchise to every eligible voter and fighting the insidious spread of misinformation about our elections through civic education and engagement," she said. "I will be lending my efforts to passing the constitutional amendments that will allow voters to vote by the method of their choice — by absentee ballot without needing an excuse, in-person before Election Day, or at their local polling places as Connecticut voters have been doing for more than 200 years."

s.spinella@theday.com

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