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Sec. Merrill leaves legacy as reformer and trailblazer; Gov. to appoint replacement

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is an advocate of early voting, which is legal in 39 states and will be a 2022 ballot question.

HARTFORD, Conn — On Wednesday, the state’s top election official and the longtime public servant said goodbye to public office. Sec. of the State Denise Merrill will officially resign at noon on Thursday.

Some of her accomplishments include instituting a centralized voter registration system, campaign public financing, and open primaries. 

RELATED: Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to resign, citing ill husband

Her resignation will mark the 3rd recent change to a state constitutional officer position following the resignation of Comptroller Kevin Lembo and the announcement that Treasurer Shawn Wooden would not run for reelection.

Merrill is stepping down to focus on caring for her ailing husband. 

“Sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you can’t quite finish what you started. But it’s the right decision for me and my family,” said Merrill.

At age 73, she has spent more than three decades under the gold dome. Merrill, who is also a former state representative, majority leader, and classically trained pianist, will be remembered as a trailblazer for women and a vanguard for one of the most fundamental rights of democracy - the right to vote. 

Merrill’s friend and her predecessor is Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz. 

“I think Denise Merrill’s legacy will be in the expansion of voter participation, the expansion of public financing, and mail-in voting. So many things that we worked on together and she really pushed forward. She’s been an incredible leader,” remarked Bysiewicz.

Merrill’s resignation leaves Gov. Ned Lamont scrambling to fill the vacancy ahead of the state’s August primary. 

“I’ve got to find an interim replacement to get us through what is a complicated election,” said Gov. Lamont.

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Meanwhile, several candidates are running to permanently replace Merrill including Democrat and New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond and Republican State Rep. Terrie Wood. FOX61 asked them about one of the office’s most talked-about issues, early voting. 

“Local registrars and town clerks should have a voice on early voting as well as expanding no-excuse absentee balloting which is another policing priority for me,” said Bond. While Rep. Wood said, “What I’m hearing from many town clerks is their concern is the unfunded mandate of that and the staffing up to prepare which is why I only support maybe up to five days of early voting.”

Credit: FOX61

Secretary Merrill’s tenure hasn’t been without criticism for her decision to mail absentee ballots to every voter in the 2020 election and she leaves the post at a time when cyber security and election integrity have never been more important. 

“I think the greatest challenge for us going forward is maintaining or really reestablishing that trust in the results of elections because that’s the bottom line for everything else. I’m very worried that from now on in this country we will never have an uncontested election,” said Merrill.

Gov. Lamont says he will appoint an interim Secretary Of the State within a matter of a day or two and on his short list is Deputy Sec. Of the State Scott Bates who had to resign his position as head of the Connecticut Port Authority following a financial scandal.

RELATED: Lamont signs absentee ballot extension bill into law

On Wednesday evening, several media outlets reported that Gov. Lamont would tap election officer Moriah Moriarty to fill the six-month vacancy, but Gov. Lamont's Communications Director, Max Reiss, said the reports were incorrect. 

Sec. Merrill recently appeared as a guest on FOX61’s The Real Story. You can catch the full interview here.

Matt Caron is a reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at mcaron@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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