HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called it "disturbing" Wednesday that requests for help with voter registration were found within multiple boxes of unprocessed welfare and food stamp applications at the Department of Social Services' Hartford regional office.
Merrill said she plans to meet with the state agencies designated as voter registration agencies under the so-called federal "motor-voter act," which took effect in 1995, to make sure they are fulfilling their duty.
"They are required under federal law and it is very disturbing to think that some very poor people would be disenfranchised by this," Merrill said. "That was the whole point of the motor voter act."
Merrill said her office has "heard hints about this sort of thing before." There was no immediate word on the number of requests found.
A state law act that implements the federal law requires DSS and the Departments of Motor Vehicles and Labor, as well as public libraries, to make voter registration information and materials available to the public. Other state agencies, such as the Department of Correction, are also providing voter information.
The Associated Press first reported on Tuesday that five DSS officials were placed on administrative leave after the boxes were discovered. Three managerial and two human resources workers are now under investigation, including the office's former regional administrator. DSS has not released the names. Administrative leave is a neutral action pending a personnel probe.
DSS spokesman David Dearborn said a low-level supervisor initially alerted office management last week about the unprocessed forms, but the commissioner's office only learned about them "through informal channels."
In a memo to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's chief of staff, DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby said the fact that a low-level supervisor's internal alert had to be communicated to his office by "a third-party colleague" before attention was given to the problem "underscores the need for wholesale review of the management in Hartford."
DSS staff are now cross-checking the discovered documents, some dating to 2009, to see if any applicants were not served. That review may take a week to 10 days.
Merrill said her office was not notified by DSS about the unprocessed voter forms, which request assistance with registering to vote. She said it's up to the state agency to follow up with the recipient and help them with registration. Typically the request for help accompanies applications for food stamps and other benefits.
A message was left with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, asking whether the watchdog agency plans to investigate.
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