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Merrill Not Ready To Mandate Electronic Reporting of Election Results

by Christine Stuart | Mar 18, 2014 7:00am
(0) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Election 2014, Election Policy

She would like to get more election results sent to her office electronically, instead of by fax or police escort, but Secretary of the State Denise Merrill doesn’t believe it should be mandated.

That’s what she told the Government Administration and Elections Committee on Monday.

Merrill, who has been pushing to modernize the election system in Connecticut, isn’t ready to require local registrars of voters, who have until 6 p.m. the day after an election, to send results electronically to the state. She would prefer email, but many still fax it or drive it to Hartford.

Even when they are emailed, the results shared with Merrill’s office are in a rudimentary form. Most Election Day tallies are still handwritten, depending on the municipality, and 2013 was the first year pdfs of those results were uploaded online.

But Merrill encouraged lawmakers Monday to vote against a bill that would require the Auditors of Public Accounts to do a performance review of the electronic vote tally system tested by Merrill’s office and 32 municipalities in the Nov. 5, 2013 election.

The 2013 municipal election marked the second year in which the state attempted to pilot a real-time, web-based reporting system intended to replace the laborious and outdated process utilizing paperwork and fax machines to collect the data. Merrill said the system was designed for about $100,000 by PCC Technology Group, which has an office in Bloomfield.

“This is still in the testing phase,” Merrill told the committee. “That’s why we’re still going slow on this.”

She said she wants to make sure the system works for every town before they put it online.

“I don’t think this should be a mandate on towns because there are so many different ways people calculate their results,” Merrill said. “You have lots of clerks who are already developing their own computerized systems.”

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, wanted to know why the state was using a contractor to do something that could be done with free spreadsheet software.

“Why did we opt to do something much more complicated?” McLachlan asked Merrill on Monday.

Merrill said the state already had a contract with the vendor who is working on project.

PCC Technology of Bloomfield has a multi-year contract with the state and has been working with Merrill’s office in developing the reporting system and the online voter registration system.

“What might work in your town might not work in New Haven,” Merrill told McLachlan.

She said there needs to be a standardized system across the state and what the state is developing will have the results, but it will “bring all the calculations to another level.”

In 2013, some 32 municipalities tried the results reporting software but only 13 of those were able to submit their head moderator results using the program. That means there were 19 towns that logged in and filed at least one moderator’s return, but did not finish the process by submitting the head moderator’s return. Some of the problem was related to the availability of wifi at specific polling locations. Completing the real-time results via the Internet also wasn’t mandatory, so there was no incentive to use the web-based form.

West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot was the only other member of the public to submit testimony on the proposal. Labrot said an audit of the system may be “premature” because even those towns piloting the system in 2013 did not rely on it for the official results, but rather as a way of see how the system performed. She said they offered suggestions for how to improve the system based on their experience.

Merrill reminded lawmakers that “elections in Connecticut are remarkably de-centralized.” There’s no standardized way that towns and cities collate and tabulate their results.

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