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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Administering Elections in the U.S.

Secretary of the State of Connecticut the Honorable Denise Merrill and Assistant to the Secretary of the State for Elections, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Peggy Reeves
New York, NY
November 4, 2016




Date: 11/04/2016 Description: Foreign Press Center Briefing with the topic of Administering Elections in the U.S. with Secretary of the State of Connecticut the Honorable Denise Merrill and Assistant to the Secretary of the State for Elections, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Peggy Reeves  - State Dept Image

NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We’re very, very pleased to welcome the Honorable Denise Merrill to the New York Foreign Press Center. As the Secretary of the State of Connecticut, she is the State of Connecticut’s chief elections official and has focused on modernizing Connecticut’s elections during her term. Secretary Merrill also serves as the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, leading the oldest nonpartisan professional organization of public officials in the United States, which focuses on many issues including voter turnout and voting procedures.

I have a few housekeeping items before we start. If you can silence your cell phones, please. At the end of her remarks, if you raise your hand and wait for a microphone, once you receive it, if you can state your name and your media affiliation. Today’s briefing is on the record. And with that, let me welcome Secretary Merrill to the stage.

MS MERRILL: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. Thank you for being here. I come from not very far away in Connecticut, so it was a lovely drive down. And I’m going to just start today by trying to explain the process of the American elections, and let me warn you it’s not easy. It’s a federalist system, meaning there are authorities at all levels of government and there are many different ways of governing elections depending on what state you’re in, because it’s basically a state-level election system, or, more accurately, a local election system.

I will tell you from the outset, my – where I’m coming from, I grew up, was born and raised in San Francisco. I’ve lived in Connecticut for about 35 years, but previously I did live in France for three years, and I am married to a British national. So I have some experience abroad and so I hope I can make this understandable enough. And I don’t know what level of experience you’re coming from, so if you forgive me, I’ll be a little bit basic at the beginning.

First, I should say I am elected like many secretaries of state in the country, but not all secretaries handle elections. Some of them do many different other functions, as does my office. We also register businesses, we provide communications – like we have a bluebook about the state which is sort of an almanac. We file lots of legislative papers. So there’s many different functions, almost like a clerk’s office in many ways. In some states, the secretaries are appointed by either the governor or sometimes the legislature, so you can see there’d be many different ways of handling the various loyalties that a chief elections officer might have.

It’s interesting also that I am elected as a partisan official, so I am a Democrat. My colleagues – most of them are party-oriented. They’ve been elected as a party person. However, in the office, we are expected to act in a nonpartisan way. And it’s a little bit tricky, although I think in most states where they don’t have partisan elected officials, they will have something like a commission, for example, that would be a nonpartisan commission that would handle elections.

And in most states, I think people like the idea that there’s a face to elections that they can go to when something goes wrong, quite frankly. So even though our office – as an election official, my role is really advisory. So I’ll use Connecticut as an example, but it’s not typical, and I’ll explain what typical really is.

So in Connecticut, we have no counties. Every other state in the country has county government, and usually elections are handled at the county level. In Connecticut, it’s even more local, so we have 169 towns, ranging from 2,000 people to 250,000 people. And each town administers the elections at the town level. Like I say, that’s not typical, but in Connecticut it’s hyper-local.

We also have – so about half our towns have one polling place, because they’re small. The rest of them – we have, I think, 760 polling places in Connecticut. Some states, like Wisconsin, has something like 1500 polling places. Altogether in the country, there are over 10,000 jurisdictions, which means mostly counties; and inside that, even more – thousands and thousands – of polling places. So that’s basically the structure.

Our local – in our case, we have – to administer elections in each town, we have two registrars – again, very unusual. Usually there’s one. We have two, one from each of the major parties, by statute. This is to provide, as they like to say, two sets of eyes on everything. Then we have a town clerk, who usually in our state handles absentee ballots, things that have to be mailed and sent back. So that’s the basic structure in Connecticut. In most states – like you’ll hear about Dade County, I’ll take as an example, in Florida – huge county. Within – but Dade County clerk actually handles the elections for all of Dade County, which is probably bigger than the whole state of Connecticut.

Federal government has very little to do with elections in the United States. There is something called the Election Assistance Commission, which was put in place after the 2000 election, which had a lot of problems. And people still about it because it was I think the first time in a long time where there was a very heavily contested election and lots of problems about how that election was administered. And if you were here, you might remember something called hanging chads, which were – it came to the American public’s attention that elections had a lot of anomalies and that ballots weren’t always straight and who knows if they were getting counted properly.

So after that election – in 2002, I believe – they passed a law called Help America Vote Act, HAVA, with a lot of money. I think it was like – I don’t know how many billions of dollars – a lot of money that went to the states to purchase new election equipment. Now, if you can think back – so 2002 to today – that’s ancient history in technology terms, right? And that’s when we last purchased equipment in the United States. Ironically, it turns out this year that maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because I’m now going to explain to you exactly how we vote in Connecticut, which I think is typical of about 75 percent of the jurisdictions.

So you’re a voter. You come in. You have, hopefully, registered to vote in advance. Now, in Connecticut that registration period is already closed. It has to be closed early so the clerks have time to get everything together. So you come up, assuming you have registered in advance – and, of course, you need two things to register to vote in the United States. You have to be a citizen and you have to be 18 years old, and that’s all. And people need to remember that. Those are the two qualifications.

If you’ve registered – and in Connecticut, in order to register, you have to have proof of residency and identity. And you have to provide the last four digits of your Social Security number, hopefully maybe a driver’s license or some – or other form of identification that shows that you live in the district. So assuming you’ve done that – and you can do that by mail, in person, or now in Connecticut we have online voter registration, as does about 30 states now, I think, have some form of online voter registration that we can crosscheck with the Department of Motor Vehicles. We check the signatures electronically and that’s what makes that work. So you can only do that if you have a Connecticut driver’s license or ID.

And by the way, just as a side note, all the conversation you will hear in the United States about identification and how do you know someone is that person and what kind of ID you need, that is all because is in the United States we do not have a national ID system. And that’s because we are really leery here, I think, of the national federal government getting involved in elections. So you have this very kind of schizophrenic feeling about whether we should require certain paperwork to prove who you are or whether we should be more flexible in order to make sure not to disenfranchise anyone, and that’s what all this conversation is about with the voter IDs. In Connecticut, we require an ID, but not necessarily a photo ID. And that’s really what all the legal cases are about. And that’s because we feel there ought to be some flexibility, that some people don’t have a driver’s license or a photo ID, but they still should be able to vote because they’re a citizen and 18 years old.

So assuming you’ve registered, doing all that, you get up to the desk where a – sometimes a volunteer but usually a poll worker who has been trained will check your name off a paper list. See, that’s the other things it’s important to know. Everything in the United States is pretty much still on paper. And that’s kind of ironic too, because I’m somebody who has been pushing more technology, more modernizing of the system; but it turns out this year there’s so many questions about can our election be hacked, is it secure, that it turns out having a paper backup system for everything we do is not a bad thing. And it is true of almost everything we do. There are many checks and balances, and the biggest one is paper. So when you vote, in 75 percent of the country, you vote on paper. You fill in the little bubbles just like the old SAT test; you put it in a scanner, which is a pretty basic scanner, the one we bought in 2003 or something like that. In that scanner – which is, by the way, before the election locked in a locked closet – no one can go in it. Once it comes out, it’s also locked. You have to unlock the little drawer. You have to unlock all the pieces, and two people have to be there at all times. So there’s a lot of chain of custody that goes on.

Assuming that’s all happened, you put your piece of paper in. It is counted. It’s a tabulator, really, and it’s counted on a – by a card, which I think we’re going to show you. Should we show it to you right now? By the way, this is my election director, Peggy Reeves. She was actually a registrar in Connecticut for many years and is now the election director for the state. And so she’s actually done all this, and if you have any really detailed questions, you’re going to have to ask her, because I’ve never actually done this myself.

MS REEVES: (Off-mike.)

MS MERRILL: We’re going to get the card. Okay, so we’re going to show you the card. But in any event, after you put your paper ballot in, it’s counted by the tabulator. The paper ballot is kept. And then at the end of the night, everything is – the tabulator spits out a piece of paper and it is compared with the number of ballots. And that piece of paper just is like a little ticker-tape, and that – those numbers are typed into the only part of our system that is now electronic, and that is our election results system, because we do have a new system that will now – in real time you’ll type in at the local level and it will come up on a map showing exactly when the results come in.

I should also point out, nowhere in the country are any of these tabulators connected to the internet – nowhere – not a single machine as far as I know. So that’s what makes all the conversation about hacking the elections very troubling, because it’s hard to imagine how you would be able to impact the results in any electronic way. Naturally, there might be other things you could dream up as a conspiracy, but not that one.

The list that’s created through the online systems is electronic at first, although in a very controlled environment. We have a very old system, again, but it’s a closed loop. So it’s not – it’s on the internet, but it’s on a closed system where there is very little access. And that list, as it’s generated, is confirmed at the local level. So, again, it’s all done at the town level. Those registrars contact the people who have registered, make sure they’re actually where they say they are. That listed is printed. So on election day the internet is not used for these lists. They are printed out and you’re checked off on a piece of paper.

Now, in some states they have electronic poll books that do some of this automatically. But again, most of them I don’t believe are connected in any way to the internet. They are separately processed from the results.

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

MS MERRILL: Oh, here’s the card. Okay.

MS REEVES: Is this on? Is this on? Okay. So all of the guts of the machine – so when you think about it – so everything is programmed on this one card, and this one card would have the entire ballot information on it so it will count correctly. And the registrars beforehand test everything. They put in sample ballots. They put in at least 25 to 30 ballots with predetermined marks, and then they know when they run the tests whether in fact the machine is counting correctly. And if for some reason it isn’t, then they would get a new card from the manufacturer and make sure that it’s done. But it really is pretty failsafe.

MS MERRILL: So, now, another thing I guess I should tell you about is the issue of transparency. We have really never had much of a problem in terms of disruption at the polling places, but we very strictly control who may campaign at a polling place. And again, this is pretty typical across the country. In Connecticut, we have a 75-foot rule. So anyone who is from a campaign or is campaigning for their candidate must stand outside the 75 foot. Each polling place has a moderator. That moderator is really the king or queen for the day. They really administer that election site, and their word goes. So if they see anything disruptive, even if it’s the press – and by the way, the press and media are allowed full access to the polling places. They can come in, they can take pictures as long as they’re not disruptive, and that is determined by the moderator in every polling place.

Naturally, we have some – I wouldn't even call it authority – we have an advisory role. So if any citizen sees anything that they are – that’s troubling, they think is against the law, they think someone’s voting inappropriately, they can call our hotline. And again, there’s a national hotline, and there’s one in each state. We man the hotline with the FBI, our Election Enforcement Commission, which is the commission that’s nonpartisan that hears issues in our state, and with – we collaborate with our law enforcement community. So in case problems come up, we determine if we think it’s – comes up to a big enough level to be of concern, and then we can deploy people to go see what’s going on. But usually the moderators handle this at the local level.

We have very limited access beyond the press. The press with press credentials can enter any polling place. As long as they’re not being disruptive, they can view what’s going on. No one else. We do have no statute that allows any observer in a polling place unless they register in advance, and parties usually have an observer that they get registered to be able to go in and get numbers of who voted, which they can do, and come back and try to call out their vote – whoever hasn’t voted yet, they’ll try to get that to happen.

So at the end of the evening, the numbers that come out of the machine are posted on the wall. They’re read out in each polling place before they’re typed in. So I think there’s a great deal of transparency. Whenever we open the machines before the election, we have a public opening of the machine so everyone can see when we unlock the machine, when we put the card in. And so I do feel there is a great deal of transparency in our elections. Again, every state has slightly different laws on some of these things, but – which makes it hard to generalize in some ways. Naturally, there are different problems in different states and different issues, but I think a lot of this holds true for much of the country.

And then afterwards, we have audits. We audit 10 percent of the precincts. Well, now I guess we’re down to 5 percent because the machines have proved to be incredibly accurate. They’re like 99.5 percent accurate overall over the 10 or so years we’ve been using them. So I know they are coming to the end of their useful life, and I think we’re going to have to get some new equipment at some point, but for now they seem to be working very well. And even though it’s a very basic system really, I think we’re still pretty well served by it all. And it turns out to have been a good thing, I think, to have a paper trail. So you have the ballots, you have the lists are paper, you have the tickets that come out of the machine are on paper, and you can compare all that against whatever you have as a count.

The audit afterwards also reconciles and – you have to remember, particularly as members of the press, that the numbers you see on election night, which you’ll see mostly come from AP, Reuters, other news organizations that have the wherewithal to hire people to go to all these precincts and do the counting themselves. But even the numbers we put up on election night are unofficial. We still go back for three weeks and check again. And there are errors that occur. A lot of it’s – used to be added up by hand, which hopefully we’re getting away from, but people are tired, it’s a long day, they’ll transpose a number, and so we do uncover quite a bit of that during those two weeks. But as long as it doesn’t change the outcome of the election, it’s corrected and on we go.

So that’s sort of a snapshot. It’s hard to understand in the sense that the role of the federal government is just – the Election Enforcement Commission has guidelines for equipment, for example. There’s a certain role, I guess, for the FBI, who help us in case there are civil rights issues, like people being denied their right to vote, and we do work with them. And the state, I really am advisory, but I do notice that when something goes wrong on election day, everybody points to me. (Laughter.) That’s just how it is. It comes with the job. And then we try to correct whatever’s going on.

So I’ll give you an example. In 2010, Bridgeport ran out of ballots sometime in the afternoon, I think, and they didn’t order – you can do something about that. We have emergency plans and regulations. So if you run out of ballots, you can print more on your copy machine if you do it with – there are certain rules about how to do it. You have to count them and so forth. So what happened was they kind of panicked and they didn’t know that they could copy more ballots, so they just went home, and they closed the voting. And so we went to court to get the judge, and the judge opened up the precincts again and kept the voting going, but we had to go to court to do that.

And then since then, of course, that has not happened again. But then we’ve had other things – so mistakes are made. There’s certainly things that go wrong, and it’s never the same thing twice. It will be some other bad thing. But I think there’s a very good system of accountability overall because there are so many levels that there’s a lot of eyes on everything. So I’m feeling pretty comfortable with this election, honestly. With all the talk that’s gone on about the hacking and the rigging the vote and so forth, it’s hard for me to imagine, honestly, how a vote on a scale of the United States would be rigged in any way. It really is, and I’ve tried to think about – you can come up with some kind of preposterous scenarios, but I think it would be very difficult.

And as far as the hacking goes, I do want to say something about that, because the Department of Homeland Security has weighed in on this. This is a new issue for us, because as I say, most of our election system is not on the internet. But there have apparently been attempts from URLs outside the country to enter our voter registration databases, which, of course, are not connected to the counting machines. So these are separate databases, and it’s not clear to me that those attacks were specifically to election systems, because I think what goes on is that there are people pinging from outside URLs all the time trying to get into all kinds of databases; it’s whether they succeed or not that’s the question. And at this point, I think early on in June, we were told that two states were breached – their voter registration database.

Now, bear in mind the voter registration database is public information, so it’s sort of like hacking into the phonebook. You’ve got a list, but that list is already public, so that’s first of all. And there was no evidence that anything was tampered with, so we don’t really know what that was about. But since then, we have had help from the Department of Homeland Security, who has gone in with programs that have helped us do a double cleansing of the databases and so forth. Most of them are handled by state IT departments, not my office. We have a separate IT department that handles security of all state systems. Most of these systems, these voter registration databases, are on servers in the state and usually backed up either in the cloud or some – in another state. So again, we are taking advantage, I think, of all opportunities to get help with this, and I’m pretty comfortable that we’re okay at this point.

So that’s – I guess, I’ll stop there and see if there’s questions.

MODERATOR: Our first questions.

MS MERRILL: Yes.

MODERATOR: Please, raise your hand.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi, I’m with the Greek public radio and I would like to ask you something. Actually, I would like to ask you many things. You talk about that there is no uniformity in your vote system, because as we know, you use different kind of machines in different states or in different counties. And that actually is a kind of criteria – a basic criteria to observe elections, which means – correct me if I’m wrong – that you can’t be in a position to observe elections in the United States.

I want to ask you, these electronic machines that you use, are they using an open-source software or a proprietary software? And if they are being programed from private companies, who is this one who is program the source called? Because this is very important that if you can – somebody can involve there and change or if he can change something. And the last question is why you don’t use paper ballot counted by human beings?

MS MERRILL: Okay, first of all, when I say – when you say there are different machines everywhere, that’s not quite true. The equipment is all certified by the EAC national, so there are national standards. And I believe most of the country, as I say about 75 percent of the jurisdictions, use something similar to what we have, which is the scanner with the card.

Now, the cards in our case are – we have something called the UConn Election Assistance Center – Election Center at UConn – that does the testing and certification of our cards. All of them go through, and it’s a non – obviously, it’s a university, non-partisan, not involved for profit or any of that. So it’s – that’s how we check our cards, which are then checked again at the local level.

So I mean, I don’t know what more we could do, but we do it, I guess, for efficiency. If we were still – we still do have the paper ballots and in cases of close elections, there is a hand count. So what it does essentially is – mean that you do the hand count only when it matters. So we have a rule that if it’s within, I think it’s 5 percent or something – there’s a percentage – then there’s an automatic recount, and many times it’s by hand.

Did you have another question?

QUESTION: Yes, in this recount, because if I’m not wrong, I don’t know if you prevent the ballot images from being destroyed again, if you prevent the (inaudible) file system called Cast Vote Record from business connected, because sometimes happen that and you have some problems in recounting.

MS MERRILL: We don’t have ballot images.

MS REEVES: We have ballots. We have the paper. Is that the question? Yes, we have paper.

QUESTION: Because you have paper, what do you mean (inaudible)?

MS MERRILL: Yes.

QUESTION: I know. I vote here. I vote here.

MS MERRILL: Yeah, okay. And we keep the paper --

MS REEVES: We don’t have ballot images.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MS MERRILL: We don’t have ballot images. Is that --

QUESTION: When you make the recount, who makes the recount?

MS REEVES: How do we recount?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS REEVES: We hand count. So we literally take the paper ballots and hand count them. We don’t look at ballot images.

QUESTION: And in these cases that there is not an effort as because there is (inaudible) that they don’t have paper. Somehow this is something they don’t have paper.

MS REEVES: Everybody has paper in Connecticut.

QUESTION: I don’t mean in Connecticut.

MS REEVES: Oh, I’m sorry, in other --

QUESTION: In United --

MS MERRILL: There are states --

MS REEVES: Okay. There are states that have DREs, you’re right, which is an electronic system. That’s true. We don’t have it in Connecticut. Yeah, I don’t know how they do – frankly, I don’t know how they do an accurate hand count afterwards.

QUESTION: Because that is a problem, even if it’s 10 percent --

MODERATOR: You have to speak into that.

QUESTION: Yeah, because this is a problem – if it did that in the 10 percent in the country, you can change the elections, you can flip the votes.

MS MERRILL: All I can say is --

QUESTION: If somebody can have an access to your program – the source code, and this one whose source code – I don’t know why you give it to the private companies. I can never understand that, to be honest with you, why it happened that, why the private companies is this one but deal with that program.

MS MERRILL: I don’t know how to answer that. I mean, there are some states that do – some districts within states that still use the DRE – DRS machines, the ones that don’t have the paper. That’s been under a lot of question, but originally it was certified by the EAC at the time. And so it’s gone to court in several states and they have upheld the accuracy of these – this equipment, so that’s all I can say. I mean, I don’t know the answer. Nothing’s perfect, I guess I’d say, and maybe we’ll have to look at that in the future. I certainly would stand by our paper system, and I’m glad we went that way when we originally purchased it.

MODERATOR: Let’s go to the question in the back by Hajime.

QUESTION: Hajime Matsuura of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun. Thanks for coming.

MS MERRILL: Sure.

QUESTION: Two questions, please. In October, candidate Donald Trump challenged the integrity of the voting system, and I think your association responded right away. On top of that, do you have any comment on this allegation, and what do you think he meant when he decided to make accusation?

Second question: You run a nonpartisan association with – composed by partisan backgrounds. If I – if somebody has – is a third-party person, how would he or she run for your position?

MS MERRILL: Oh, well, I’ll take the last one first. Third-party people do run for my position frequently, and I think occasionally third parties have been elected, much as Bernie Sanders was elected as a Socialist in Vermont for many years. Yeah, so that’s very common, actually. I think I’ve had a third-party candidate run against me every time. We have a lot more third-party activity in Connecticut recently, by the way.

And as far as Mr. Trump, I can’t speak for him, but I think his charge was quite vague. And so as soon as he – you’re referring to the part about the election is rigged, the election is rigged. And I have, frankly, been trying to figure out myself, and as have many of us, exactly what he means by that. The implication is somehow – seems to shift over time. The first implication was that it was going to be attacked from the outside of the country and somehow – because it seemed like originally it was in response to the hacking of the emails.

And then we finished trying to convince people that that wasn’t really analogous to our elections because we are not connected to the internet, so then it started to shift to being some – I think an internal question of what would go on at each polling place. And again, I think just the very decentralization of the system, if you can even call it a system, is probably the best defense against something like that. I mean, not to say that it isn’t possible, and certainly there have been breaches of all kinds of things over time, usually at a more local level. I just find it hard to imagine the scale of something like that impacting the actual results of the election.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Robert Poredos. I’m from Slovenian Press Agency. So the rabbit is out of the hat now, so the accusations are flying all over the place about the elections being rigged. I was always fascinating about one accusation: dead people voting. So can you talk about that a little bit, and maybe a history? Do you have any numbers? I mean, how many cases of election fraud do you have from previous election and about that (inaudible)?

MS MERRILL: Sure. Oh, I’m glad you brought that up, yes. This accusation that there are lots of dead people and that they’re voting or lots of people who are registered in more than one place, it’s absolutely true. There are about 12 million people in this country who are registered in more than one place. There is almost no record of people trying to vote twice, and that’s the point. I mean, but the reason there are so many people registered in two states is because they move a lot, and we have a lot of trouble keeping track of them because, again, we don’t have a national database. And even if we did, that would probably have other problems, like it would probably be connected to the internet, for example.

But at this point, each state maintains its own database. Some of them are not electronic. Some of them are still on cards. And so because people think their – frequently think their registration follows them or they just forget to take it off in one place, and because we’re so cautious about removing people from the roll – our basic premise is people have a right to vote, and just because they failed to – we don’t want to take them off in error, I guess is what I’d say.

So as a result, you have a lot of people that re-register, and now we are starting to have a national consortium of states, called ERIC, which is a system set up by the Pew Foundation, where we can share information. Example would be with the dead people thing, so people, if they die in state, we get notice of that. So we’ll get the death records and that’s kept up-to-date pretty well. But if someone – for example, in Connecticut we have a lot of people who live in Florida part of the time, so if they die in Florida we don’t get notice. So that’s how you end up with dead people on the record. Again, very little incidence of anybody voting for anybody who’s dead, and I know there’s a lot of myth around that.

But if you look at the actual numbers, we went back – voter fraud, that’s another one that’s thrown around a lot, right? When you think of fraud, first of all, what does that mean? And for most people, that means someone coming in and impersonating another voter or claiming to be who they aren’t. That almost never happens. There’s a large body of academic research on this point because it’s been argued so frequently.

And if you look at the numbers, Connecticut is a good example. We went back 20 years, and we had about six allegations, only one of which turned out to be real, and that was a mistake. There was no intent to vote illegally in that case. I think it was a student at Yale, to be honest, who was a foreign student and thought she had the right to vote.

So there may be more than is reported, but it’s not being reported. I’ll say that. And that I think comes in the myth territory. But it is an issue that we don’t have absolutely clean lists, and we’re doing much better. I think in Connecticut our list is probably as good as it’s ever been, because we have joined these consortiums that share information across state lines.

QUESTION: Thank you for this briefing. I’m Natasha Israni with Times Now. It’s an Indian broadcast network. The question I have is Donald Trump, the nominee, has often talked about voter fraud, but it’s also translating into what’s – what his supporters are thinking. A recent study showed that 35 percent of the supporters say they will not accept the results of the election if Hillary Clinton is elected. So that kind of fear, where is that fear rooted? And does – do the electoral bodies in the United States, are they taking any extra steps to counteract the fears that may exist in the voting public?

MS MERRILL: Yes. To be honest, it’s a relatively new phenomenon, and I think it just corresponds with the mistrust that everyone has of everything now – mistrust of government, mistrust of every institutional, even educational institutions, mistrust of the private sector, mistrust of Wall Street, mistrust of the elites. All those things conspire against us. Traditionally the election system has been – that has been absent. People had a very touching faith, I think, in American elections up until really very recently. It has always operated to some degree on faith. And also probably because it’s born of a country that had a lot of small towns, everybody knows everybody in those towns. And so this is, I think, the result of the mobility that’s arisen and also these accusations. It’s very damaging, I think, to the American psyche, but there’s not much we can do about it. We are on high alert. I would say every state is making sure that their dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s and making sure that all the standards and regulations and certifications are followed to the best of our ability.

QUESTION: Is there any special outreach? Is there any special outreach though to voters just to allay their fears?

MS MERRILL: Every secretary of state has put out statements similar to what I’m saying to you today. I have been in the media pretty much constantly for the last month or so trying to explain the American election system to the public. I think if anything good is to come of this, I think it’s a great educational experience for everyone, because no one had really questioned any of these things before very much until – the 2000 election I think was the first time people were like, whoa, what’s really going on behind the curtain? And that’s, I think, what you’re seeing now.

QUESTION: Thanks. Eva Schweitzer from DIE ZEIT. I have a question. It has been brought up a lot that people, and especially black people, are kept from voting by – they – not having a government-issued ID, which means a driver’s license or the name of the driver’s license is spelled slightly differently than on the voting roll or the polling booth doesn’t have enough capacity that people have to line up for hours and hours. Has that been addressed?

MS MERRILL: I hope so. There is a long and sad history of voter suppression in this country, and we really thought we had put that behind us with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And honestly, for many, many years, I think this question of what ID you need, for example, was a settled question until very recently, and it’s risen back up – a variety of reasons we could all speculate about. But I think really the courts have stepped in and I think are trying to provide equity where some of those rights are being perhaps abrogated. I don’t know if we’ve got it perfectly. I like – I would defend our voter ID law in Connecticut. Yes, we request an ID but you can use a variety of them. I think the bottom line is every voter who’s eligible to vote must be allowed to vote in peace. And we try our very best to make that happen, sometimes better than others.

QUESTION: May I ask you a follow-up? So what possibilities does the federal government have to make the states do stuff? So what kind of legal recourse do you have?

MS MERRILL: Well, if it spills into an issue of civil rights, the FBI can be brought in, the courts can be brought in, and people can bring suits right on the spot. If they call our hotline, for example, in my state or any other state, they could complain that their rights had been breached either by – there’s been a lot of discussion about long lines, for example. In my book, I think long lines really is a breach of someone’s right to vote if it’s long enough, and there’s been a lot of talk about what’s long enough. I’d say four hours in line is too long.

In that case, a voter – any voter – can bring a cause of action to the federal government for breach of civil rights of the Voting Rights Act among other things. So that is – in this country, I think the courts are the recourse for those sorts of problems. The difficulty with elections, of course, is that it’s happening right now and very hard to fix after the fact. But we’ve come a long way. We have some ways to go.

QUESTION: Thank you. Manik Mehta, journalist, syndicated journalist. I’m wondering if it’s within your purview to comment on Mr. Trump’s threat to reject the election results if he’s – if he does not win. That was his comment. Would that create a constitutional crisis like some are saying? We had a debate two days ago on CNN, and they were talking about a major constitutional crisis. How do you read that?

And secondly, could you tell us how the current trends are, voting trends in your own state?

MS MERRILL: Sure. I’ll take the second one first. Up until this year, I’ve been very concerned about the lack of voting turnout. The big crisis has been no one’s voting. We have one of the lowest voter turnouts in the developed countries. This year we have an all-time record voter registration both in my state and across the country. So obviously, everyone’s going to come out and vote, I think, and even then, if it gets above maybe 70, 75 percent of the enrolled voters, that’s a high turnout for the United States.

I always say that when I grew up voting was considered your civic duty. I think it’s a different attitude now. It’s considered more an optional activity if you happen to like the candidates sometimes, I think. But that be it as it may, I think this is reviving interest in elections, so I think the turnout’s going to be pretty high, and the voting – the registration numbers are much higher than anything we’ve ever seen.

As far as Mr. Trump, I will stay true to my principle of being as nonpartisan as possible and not sort of talk about candidates directly. And I guess that’s all I’m going to say about that, actually.

QUESTION: But the implications –

MS MERRILL: The implications – I will talk about that. I can just tell you what I think the process would be if someone questioned the results, let’s say, in a particular precinct, in a particular state. And this has happened before, of course, Bush v. Gore and all that. What would happen is someone would have to go to the courts, first to the state courts. The courts would decide something. It would probably immediately be appealed to the Supreme Court. The troubling fact at the moment, I think, is that there are only eight people on the Supreme Court and that could be problematic. If that court divided evenly, the election would go to the House of Representatives.

So that’s the process. I do believe in the United States the process would be followed. I’d like to think so. People are positing all kinds of things that could happen, and there could be a revolution. I honestly think in the end Americans are pretty respectful of the law, and so I’d be very, very surprised if something like that happened. And I think the process would be followed, and where it would take us, I have no idea.

QUESTION: Thank you. Igor Borisenko with TASS, Russian news agency. The question on polling times – I’ve checked a couple of boards of elections in Massachusetts. They told me that some in some small municipalities, that they could start voting at 5:45 a.m., then you have that question with Dixville Notch is, if I am correct --

MS MERRILL: Yes, New Hampshire.

QUESTION: -- they start polling at noon at the Balsams Hotel and finish it in a minute or two after midnight. So the question is twofold. Why not establish a universal polling time, at least for one time zone? And another one: Well, how do you think – how much influence does those events like in Dixville Notch has on the general polling situation in the country? Because it’s reported widely, it’s reported right after midnight, and of course everybody is looking for what’s going on there.

MS MERRILL: Yeah, a very good question, and of course, a lot of us are very concerned about the poor voters on the west coast who are already finding out who won three hours before the polls are closed. And it’s an increasing problem as AP and others are more and more adept at figuring out who voted how.

But in terms of the hours of polling, you’re witnessing the beauty and the curse of American elections. People try to respond to their group of people they’re serving, and so what makes sense in Dixville Notch might not make sense in Washington D.C. And by the way, many states have early voting. We don’t. And they have early voting sometimes for three weeks, sometimes just Saturday and Tuesday. Sometimes all the polling places are open for a week, sometimes only the library or the town hall. So there’s a lot of latitude, and each state and each jurisdiction gets to decide. And that’s, like I say, the beauty and the curse of the whole system.

QUESTION: Sorry, just a follow-on. From a practical point of view which might be interested to each and every one of us here, what should be considered the starting of the polling process in the states? Would it be 5:45?

MS MERRILL: In that state it would.

QUESTION: No, I mean for the whole --

MS MERRILL: Oh, what should be the time?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah.

MS MERRILL: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, we have 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. It works for us.

QUESTION: No, you have that, but let’s say in Maine they do have quite different --

MS MERRILL: Noon to whatever, yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. So if in some jurisdictions they start at 5 – they could start. That’s the option, actually. They could, but – they do have the possibility, but they might use it or might not use it. So would it be fair to say that at 5:45, we should say the election in the continental United States has started?

MS MERRILL: Well, I could say that all I wanted, but nobody would listen to me, so – (laughter) – it’s just grown up from the ground up. And you’re not going to change it.

MODERATOR: Are there other questions?

QUESTION: Thank you for briefing. I’m Mengda Li from Shanghai Observer and Jiefang Daily. My question is: I wonder how you know about the New York State electional policy, the – about the differences by Connecticut State, and I wonder if you know this. And it’s reported that New York doesn’t require showing ID when voting, and I don’t know if it is true. It’s reported, but it may give the space for intentional rapidly voting. It’s since that vote for twice and certain or so, and (inaudible) and even under some organization, because there is a YouTube video – very popular – several weeks ago that shows that New York City Democratic commissioner said that privately – on a private occasion that some corruption of the voting of United – of New York City. He complained about it privately. So how do you comment – comment this?

MS MERRILL: I have to say I don’t know precisely what the New York ID law is. It’s possible there’s no requirement for any ID if you’re on the list, but remember, you had to show an ID to get registered to begin with. I would also say don’t believe everything you see on YouTube. (Laughter.) It’s – this is an issue that keeps coming up. We have states that have taken thousands of people off the voting rolls because they didn’t produce citizenship papers. Now, that’s one extreme. Then we have states that don’t even have a voter registration system. South Dakota, you just come in and vote. That’s probably because there’s only a couple hundred people in South Dakota, but they don’t even have a registration process. So it depends on the culture of that state.

Now, I don’t know what you’re referring to exactly, and of course, for years there’s been lots of concern about the cities. You hear a lot about Chicago and stuffing the ballot boxes and so forth that’s been – and maybe some of that’s true. It’s perfectly possible. I would say probably our electronic systems make that more difficult, but we keep trying to make it as clean as we can. There’s a lot of checks and balances. There are a lot of people involved. And I don’t know about the particular ID law – I don’t know if anybody else does – but they’re all over the place. And I think ours probably is the most reliable in the sense that it’s flexible yet it does require an ID of some kind when you get there, but even that can be manipulated. Anything can be manipulated if you work hard at it, but we try very hard to have as many checks on things like that as possible.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Pakling Cheng from Apple Daily, Hong Kong. Can you also give us a snapshot about the activities after the voters – I mean, the closure of the voting center and where would the ballots goes and who or when will announce the result? Thank you.

MS MERRILL: Yes. After the polls are closed, the machines are locked down – and if I get in trouble, I’m going to ask Peggy to tell me exactly what they do. It’s very complicated. The ballots are put in special bags that are locked and sealed, and they go down to the town hall under guard and so forth. I mean, there are – two people of both parties come guard the ballots. The machine itself spits out a tape with the numbers on it. The tape is read to everyone in the room, and there’s lot of people usually watching from the campaigns and so forth, and then that is posted on the wall. And that piece of paper is driven to wherever they do the central tabulation, which is usually town hall, and then at that point there are people there that type the numbers into our new system. This is new for us and for most states.

Most states, they take that piece of paper. They write it down on a moderator’s return, sign it, seal it, and then fax it to us. That’s how it’s been done for years. So we would get faxed copies. Sometimes the local policeman would drive it up to our office. And that’s why we’ve done a new system, because as you can imagine, it was a little inefficient. We wouldn’t get the results sometimes for days, so now we’ll get most of the results, we hope, by midnight. But that’s why we now have an electronic upload. But then, the next day, they take those papers. They still fill out the paper moderator’s return and mail it directly to us, so we also get the paper copy. After that, the ballots are locked up, I believe in town hall.

Then, of course, you still have to count the absentee ballots, which are counted separately in a central place. Those are added into the mix, and all of that is kept until we figure out if there needs to be a recount. If there’s a close election, then we go to these ballots and count them by hand.

MODERATOR: We have time for one or maybe two more questions.

QUESTION: Okay, sorry. It’s me again. (Laughter.)

MS MERRILL: You again?

QUESTION: I don’t think it’s going to be serious or not, but so it’s possible, then, that somebody switched the bags when those two guys are watching them over when the ballots are in.

MS MERRILL: I don’t know. What do you think, Peggy?

MS REEVES: No.

MS MERRILL: No. (Laughter.)

MS REEVES: (Off-mike.)

MS MERRILL: Really – no, no, no, you have people from two different parties looking at you the whole time, plus all the people in the room. And believe me, we had an allegation of that one time. Somebody said oh look, that bag of ballots didn’t get counted. Well, it turned out not to be true. But with a lot of people in the room, it’s hard to hide anything.

QUESTION: Hello, my name is Joy, and I have a question related to the story about voter trading news. I’m not sure whether you guys heard of that. So apparently some, like, IT guy that developed an app called Never Trump and maybe other apps, so they will – they kind of like – people find – like blue states, they exchange the vote with people who was – they were planning to support third-party people, so they kind of like have a gentleman’s agreement, a gentleman agreement to – with all those other people in, like, swing states to exchange their votes. And I was just wondering, like, in U.S., is this legal? And I was wondering, like – I’m just wondering, like, are you guys noticed this trend? And if in this election this kind of phenomenon start to pop up, are you going to do something with this in the future?

MS MERRILL: I have to think about that, because I had not heard about that. It doesn’t exactly shock me, because I can see how people would want to – our bottom-line problem is more and more there are only a few states that are swing states, and so all of us in states that are considered either red or blue feel a little left out. So I can imagine that people would do that.

In general, you can vote any way you decide. And unless there’s coercion involved, which doesn’t sound like there is – I mean, in certain cases, we do have protected balloting. For example, older people in nursing homes, there’s usually – by federal law we have to have a special voting opportunity for those people. But if there’s no coercion involved, I would think it would be okay. You can vote any way you want.

MODERATOR: Well, I think if there are no more questions, we are going to conclude today’s briefing. We want to thank you so much for coming today. We really appreciate your time and all of your insights.

Today’s briefing was on the record. The transcript will be sent to you later today and posted on our website. And just as a quick reminder, if you intend to visit a polling station next week in New York City and you haven’t gotten this letter of authorization as a member of the media, please come by the front office, or see Shana, actually, and she’ll pass it out to you. And with that, thank you so much.