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Merrill: Enough is Enough

by | Feb 25, 2015 5:06pm
() Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Election 2014, Election 2016, Election Policy, Transparency, Hartford

Christine Stuart photo

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill

One. That’s the number of people Secretary of the State Denise Merrill believes should be in charge of administering elections in each municipality.

Under a proposal pitched Wednesday by Merrill, the individual in charge of elections would be a municipal employee and would need a minimum of at least a bachelor’s degree or four years’ experience in election administration. The single registrar would not be elected, but would be appointed by the town’s legislative body.

Currently, registrars of voters are elected officials and there’s nothing in state law that would allow for their removal. Merrill cited unprofessional behavior during the past election as one of the reasons for pitching the new system.

In Hartford, voter lists didn’t make it to at least six voting locations before 6 a.m. and a number of voters were unable to immediately cast their ballots, including Merrill and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The Hartford City Council has begun proceedings to remove all three registrars of voters after an independent investigation of the incident.

But Merrill said her proposal was inspired by more than what happened in Hartford.

She said voters have been disenfranchised by registrars of voters in other communities such as Fairfield, Naugatuck, and Bridgeport, too.

“We have now had two elections in the last four years where Connecticut has made national news for problems on Election Day, and enough is enough,” Merrill said. “... How we run elections in Connecticut is too political, while lacking professionalism and accountability.”

She said “no other state administers elections this way,” meaning no other state has two partisan elected officials overseeing elections.

But Merrill will face some steep opposition to the proposal from the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut. The group has hired Sullivan & LeShane to lobby on its behalf.

Melissa Russell, president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, said it is “vital that we preserve the two-party elected registrar system in order to maintain the checks and land ‘two sets of eyes’ on every step of the election process.”

But Russell said her group is up to working with Merrill and others on “a thoughtful and well-balanced solution to the challenges we will face in coming elections.”

Merrill admitted that getting legislation passed against the wishes of a powerful political lobby, like the registrars, is “a heavy lift.”

But she added that she thinks there’s a willingness to look at some of these situations, “and we’ll see what the legislature will do.”

In December, Rep. Ed Jutila, co-chairman of the General Administration and Elections Committee, said the time has come to look at how the state registers voters and manages elections. Jutila will hold a public hearing on Merrill’s proposals on March 9.

Merrill said she’s on the same page as the registrars when it comes to reporting election results in a faster manner using technology. She said an election night reporting system should be up and running before the next statewide election in 2016.

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(8) Archived Comments

posted by: NoNonsense | February 25, 2015  7:10pm

I’ve got a suggestion for Ms. Merrill: why not simply establish a training or certification program for registrars of voters, just like the one for town clerks? (CGS Sec. 7-22a) Or would that be too simple and logical?

posted by: dano860 | February 25, 2015  8:38pm

I like her thinking. Of course many questions are left hanging here. Appointed by the towns legislative body, can anyone say ‘cronieism’? I’m not sure of the education component but that’s minor as everyone today meets that criteria. Do they have to be selected from existing employees? Do they have to be a town resident? This will necessitate a salary commensurate with the education, in many towns they don’t receive a very large salary if any.
I do like her direction though. Fewer, less, more streamlined, let technology work for us.
Now let’s get all of the 75 year old plus poll workers out of there too.

posted by: DDaniels | February 26, 2015  7:20am

Problems within a limited number of the 160-plus towns and cities within Connecticut is not enough reason to do away with the two-party system for Registrars. Could the system be improved? Perhaps - but replacing elected registrars with appointees will not reduce “political patronage” one bit. The overwhelming majority of Registrars are hard-working, caring individuals whose primary motivation is the efficient running of free and fair elections. To throw ALL Registrars “under the bus” for the actions of a few is ill-conceived and unnecessary. Attacking the reputation and function of many because of the mistakes of a few seems like a lack of professionalism to me, and keeping the two-party Registrar system upholds the checks-and-balances necessary for accountability.

posted by: art vandelay | February 26, 2015  8:04am

art vandelay

While not employ the services of the Black Panthers?  They do in Philadelphia to keep their elections fair and honest!  It would be much cheaper than hiring 169 full time registrars.

posted by: JH86 | February 26, 2015  10:28am

If you need proof that lack of training is not the issue, consider that the Hartford nightmare did not occur in any of the other 169 towns in this state. Polling place moderators, for example, are already required to complete 5 hours of training online, then pass a half-day-long certification process, for which they are paid less than minimum wage. Considering that the state registrars organization is constantly trying to engage the SOTS to reform the electoral process in the voters’ interests, this press conference by the Secretary was a charade intended to let her look tough, appealing to folks who’ve never worked at the polls yet seem full of strong, false opinions, holding forth that nothing works right. As for the comment about staffing, I suggest that anyone revolted by the presence of older citizens working at the polls volunteer themselves - you’ll get paid a few bucks and you might learn how things actually work. Chances are your registrars will be glad for the help, for right now it is increasingly a job that no one wants to do.

posted by: Noteworthy | February 26, 2015  10:29am

The SOTS is a product of this crony system. I’ll give her kudos for bringing it up and support her plan. It is silly to have “two sets of eyes.” There should be one registrar. It should be a career employee, subject to civil service exams and that person should be an employee of the state - not the local government. That would end the cronyism - hold them accountable and fire-able for poor work habits and actually do something proactive to encourage voting and voter education that sitting in an office with too little to do everyday except once every two years. The current registrars run as as party insiders and are never challenged.

posted by: GBear423 | February 26, 2015  10:33am

GBear423

sigh… nobody is fooled. elections in certain places have been, especially in the age of Malloy, anticipated to have some issue that creates a “need” to have them open later or to have a period of time that votes are not accurately “accounted” for. The current process works fine, the elected registrar will lose their position come 2 years.  Sadly the State is rife with low information voters and did not send Ms. Merrill packing…  our profound loss.

As Dano concludes, this proposal will lead to another fat salaried bureaucrat handpicked by political players to reward some supporter/contributor/loyalist. Thus it will get traction in CT.

posted by: JH86 | February 26, 2015  1:05pm

Registrars have nothing to do except once every year or two? Sure, if you leave out hiring and training pollworkers, conducting annual canvasses of voters to make sure they still live in town and are legitimate electors, testing voting machines and handicapped access voting equipment, hiring and overseeing movers to transport voting equipment, customer service in handling voter inquiries all year long, daily maintenance of thousands of voting enrollment changes as people move in or out of town or die, enrolling new voters in person or via mail or in voter drives at high schools and other venues, making changes submitted through DMV, removing felons from the voting rolls, spotting and reporting election fraud, enforcing election law about behavior outside polling places, checking the legitimacy of absentee ballots, making sure their town or city is in compliance with changing local, state,and federal laws, and a few hundred other items. Then there’s the voicing of opposition to cockamamie legislative proposals whose “county” model successes include Florida, sold to uninformed voters as “reform.”