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Vote fix overdone

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is suggesting major surgery for a bad headache.

The November 2014 election saw a disgraceful performance by the registrars of voters in Hartford. When Election Day arrived, the registrars had yet to provide voting lists for all the polling stations. Poll officials need the lists to verify that those arriving are eligible voters, and checking off the names prevents multiple voting.

Because the city was not prepared in that and other ways, several polling places did not open at the scheduled time of 6 a.m. and many voters were turned away, some likely never came back to vote. It was the second straight gubernatorial-year election with problems. In 2010, Bridgeport ran out of ballots.

Secretary Merrill wants to fundamentally change who runs elections at the local level. That responsibility now rests with the registrars of voters, usually one Democrat and one Republican. Once appointed by town committees, they run unopposed in the general election and both are elected. The intent of having one person from each major party is to assure no party is favored. In most communities they work part-time for meager salaries.

Unusually, Hartford had three registrars, because the Working Families Party has earned major party status there.

The secretary of the state wants the legislature to replace the current system with the appointment in every municipality of a "single, professional, municipal employee - not political" to serve as registrar. The nonpartisan registrar would have to have at least a bachelor's degree or four years experience in election administration. They would also need certification and yearly training on election law and voting technology changes.

The catch is that the current system is working fine in the vast majority of towns and cities. Requiring 169 municipalities to add this new position is the major and costly surgery that we see as unnecessary.

Perhaps larger cities could be required to switch to this new "professional" position, though assuring the appointees were truly nonpartisan would be a challenge.

Better training of registrars and a certification process would help, as would closer monitoring by the secretary of the state's office prior to elections.

But changing the entire system may be medicine the legislature rightly finds too hard to swallow.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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