Compromise bill should result in professionally run elections
A compromise between Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and the association representing registrars of voters in the state has resulted in a more reasonable approach to improving the election process in Connecticut.
Earlier in the legislative session, Secretary Merrill sought changes after serious Election Day problems surfaced in Bridgeport in 2010 and Hartford in 2014, both gubernatorial election years. The secretary said she has also seen other problems that received less media attention.
She called on the legislature to replace the current system, under which a Republican and Democratic registrar is elected in every municipality, running uncontested, with the appointment of a “single, professional, municipal employee — not political” to run elections. The nonpartisan election official would have needed at least a bachelor’s degree or four years of experience in election administration.
We opposed the change for a few reasons. There could be no assurance that the voting official would truly be nonpartisan. Another professional to hire, with staff support, would have been an additional financial burden for municipalities. Tossing out a system that has long served the state was a needlessly radical move and the problems were not serious enough to justify it.
The bill recently approved 13-2 by the Government Administration and Elections Committee significantly improves upon Secretary Merrill’s original proposal. Among those deserving credit for obtaining compromise is committee Co-Chairman Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme.
If approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor, the bill would retain the current registrar of voters system. It does, however, require registrars to pass a certification request and undergo annual professional development and training.
It will allow for quicker reporting of election results by allowing registrars to report later on other technical statistics not directly related to who won. It clarifies that registrars must follow the instructions of the Office Secretary of the State.
In a major change, it allows the secretary of the state to temporarily relieve a registrar from duty for failing to acquire certification or because of an investigation. It provides for permanent removal for malfeasance or extreme neglect of duty. For a registrar to be permanently relieved of duty, a complaint would first have to be filed with the state’s attorney who, after an investigation, could ask a Superior Court judge to remove the registrar from office.
Unlike Secretary Merrill’s earlier proposal, the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut backs this plan.
One of the two “no” votes came from Ledyard Republican Rep. Mike France, who said he supports the certification and training requirements, but fears the authority to remove elected registrars from office gives the secretary of the state too much power. It is a reasonable concern, but leaving an unqualified or corrupt voting official in place would be a bigger problem. In any event, the courts have the final say under the proposal.
The General Assembly should approve the legislation and the governor should sign it.
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, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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