In June, Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced that she would not be running for election, opening the door for a slew of candidates to express interest in the position.
A Republican has not served as Secretary of the State since 1995, but two GOP candidates hope to change that next fall. The two declared Republican candidates are Brock Weber, an aide to Mayor Erin Stewart of New Britain, and Dominic Rapini, a senior account manager at Apple.
Four Democratic candidates, State Rep. Josh Elliott of Hamden, State Sen. Matt Lesser of Middletown, Rep. Hilda Santiago of Meriden, and New Haven Alder Darryl Brackeen Jr., have also formed exploratory committees.
The Connecticut Examiner spoke with Rapini about his campaign and priorities if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Why are you running for Secretary of the State?
When I ran for United States Senate in 2018, I was shocked by all of the issues around our elections in Connecticut. There is so much room for improvement in our elections. As I talked to registrars and city clerks around the state, I learned that the laws being passed in Hartford were not taking into account our actual elections infrastructure. Nobody is actually listening to our election professionals.
Because of my passion for voting integrity issues, I joined forces with an organization called Fight Voter Fraud, and I’m board chair, so I’ve been working on election integrity issues for three years now. I want to take the three years of knowledge that I’ve accumulated researching and fighting for election integrity and put that together with my 25 years at Apple in professional sales to become what I hope will be the best Secretary of the State that Connecticut has ever seen.
Tell me about the work you’ve done with Fight Voter Fraud.
I’ve helped identify 105 people that seem to have double voted in 2020, and almost 6,000 people who voted last November but don’t appear to even be registered. If two voters show up with the same name, address, birthday, and voter ID number, and both of those voters cast ballots, there is a high probability that there is voter fraud.
Even if those are genuine cases of voter fraud, what is the material impact that number of votes in races where millions of Connecticut residents cast ballots?
We don’t look at it in those terms, because there should be zero tolerance for voter fraud. We have zero tolerance for bank fraud and zero tolerance for defrauding the IRS, because even one example of fraud disenfranchises all of us. If somebody votes fraudulently, by voting twice or voting in the name of some other person, that cancels out your vote. Every fraudulent ballot cancels out a legitimate one.
Is voter fraud a big enough problem that it is worth creating more barriers to voting that could lead to voter suppression?
I would reject some of that premise, because I say that voter suppression happens when people don’t trust the system. People lose confidence in process. If people think their vote doesn’t count, that’s voter suppression.
In 2020, we probably had the most access to voting ever, with mail-in voting and drop boxes. New Haven had more than 40 precincts where people could vote, and I was at 12 on election day. It was the easiest possible election to vote in. Less than 48 percent of New Haven turned out. Was that an access gap or an enthusiasm gap? People want to think it’s access, but you’ve got to give people a reason to vote, and people have to believe that their vote will count and trust the voting systems.
Do you think extending any of those pandemic voting expansions would be worth considering?
It won’t be up to me, it will be up to the lawmakers. I support early voting in a limited fashion, contingent on what election officials can handle. Connecticut has 169 towns that all do things differently, and you can’t just tell a 70-year-old registrar to work extra days when they’re part time.
The alternative is relying on temporary employees who will not be as efficient or well-trained, so it’s not a simple thing, though I think there is a way to do it. A two or three day period that gives people time on the weekend to vote is a possibility. As far as mail-in voting, I’ve learned that the safest way to vote is in person. Last year, 56,000 of the requested absentee ballots went missing, and we don’t know if they were stolen or intercepted at the dropbox, or the people decided not to vote. Absentee ballots also have the highest rate of rejection out of any ballot type.
It’s been decades since a Republican served as Secretary of the State. Why do you think you’ll be able to change that?
The last Republican Secretary of the State was Pauline Kezer, and she was the only Republican elected that year, the rest were Independents and Democrats. I met with Pauline, and learned that you can’t go in as an ideologue, as a right winger or left winger, you have to be nonpartisan, and be somebody everyone can appreciate. For an office that controls our elections, people want to know it will be somebody pragmatic, not working for one party or the other, and I’m prepared to do that.
Do you believe that last November’s presidential election, and President Joe Biden’s win, was legitimate?
I just focus on Connecticut. This is where I was born and raised, and it’s where I’ve been doing my study for the past three years. Whatever is happening at the national level does not impact issues that have to be fixed here in Connecticut. Voters in Connecticut care more about fixing voter fraud in Bridgeport or making sure election officials can do their job properly.
I do think voters will want to know if the head of their state’s election system believes the last presidential election was legitimate.
I haven’t been researching what’s happened in Arizona and Wisconsin, I haven’t studied it. I will say that Joe Biden was certified in January and we have to move on.
Would increasing participation in elections be a priority for you?
More than 90 percent of Connecticut residents over the age of 18 are registered to vote, so I’m not sure we have a problem there that we have to fix. If anything, we might have a lot of over-registration of people that register to vote and then move. We’ve identified almost 400,000 names on the voter rolls that we think need to be cleaned out.
What differentiates you from your Republican opponent, Brock Weber?
I’ve been working in sales at Apple for 25 years, and when I sell an Apple product, I talk about the Apple product, not a competitor’s product. I was Apple salesperson of the year twice in two decades, and every day I go to work, solve big problems, innovate, and listen to my customers. That’s a skill set that is very important in government, because I’ll be able to go to Hartford and listen to election officials, lawmakers, and voters, and take all of those learnings and turn them into policy that makes our election system better. No politician or operative in the state has done the three years of work that I’ve done on election integrity.