This is one of a pair of commentaries addressing election system reform from two opposing perspectives. The other, by Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill, may be viewed here.
Election administration and registrars of voters have been much in the news lately, thanks to a new proposal from the Secretary of the State to eliminate our state’s current system of electing two registrars (one from each major party) in each municipality, and replace it with a single appointed registrar who would serve in the town clerk’s office.
The appointment, according to the proposal, would be made by the legislative body of the municipality, in conjunction with the town clerk.
The Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, not surprisingly, objects strenuously to this wholesale change to the way Connecticut administers elections. We currently have a system that allows for two sets of eyes on every procedure and process, not only on election day, but in all the weeks and months leading up to election day. Transparency is the key to integrity in our elections, and having this balance of two registrars working together preserves that transparency.
A single appointed registrar would be loyal to the majority party in the municipality that appointed him or her, rather than accountable to the voters. The incentive to please those in the legislative body who made the appointment could create a conflict with the administration of election duties, which include testing the memory cards in the voting machines and preparing them for election, conducting supervised absentee ballots (a process where the two registrars go to a nursing home or other assisted-living facility and present eligible voters with absentee ballots), and the training and hiring of poll workers to serve at each polling place.
In municipalities that lean very heavily Democratic or Republican, the voice of the minority party in those towns and cities would be completely lost. There would be no representation in the administration of the election process. And in places where the majority party or controlling faction of a majority party changes every few years, new appointments could be made each time the leadership changes, losing the experience and consistency in election administration.
Consider, too, the ramifications of having a single appointed registrar in the case of primaries and town committee caucuses. The minority party in the municipality would be dependent on an appointee from the opposing party to conduct its intra-party’s election activities.
The Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut does recognize that there are things we must do to improve in the way elections are administered in this state. Our association has been at the forefront of exploring and advocating for new technologies to make election night reporting, voter check in at the polling place, and post election audits more streamlined, accurate, and cost efficient.
To that end, we would like to see an election night reporting system that is automated, and doesn’t rely on the hundreds of hand calculations done by weary poll workers late into the evening on Election Day. We believe that it is well past time to bring this process into the 21st Century with technology that is currently available.
Registrars also support the increased use of poll books – computerized systems at the check-in desk at each polling place. This would streamline the check-in process for the voters and reduce lines considerably.
We have also advocated for the use of very simple high-speed scanning technology to conduct post-election audits, rather than having teams of workers hand counting thousands of ballots for hours. Connecticut is only one of two states that conduct post-election audits where a manual count is mandated. It is past time to modernize this process.
In addition to these simple technological improvements, the Registrars of Voters Association is a strong advocate for increased training, education, and certification for our members. We hold two conferences a year where we provide classes on relevant topics for our attendees, in addition to providing education on a county level throughout the year, and a special day-long session for newly elected registrars.
Education is something that we are passionately committed to in all areas of election administration.
We recognize that this past election had some major problems that should never have occurred. It is never acceptable for even a single voter to be disenfranchised.
However, the solution provided in the Secretary of the State’s proposal would not solve these issues, and instead, could create a whole host of new problems in how elections are conducted in Connecticut. Balance and transparency create faith in our system, and technological and educational improvements lead to more professionally and consistently administered elections.
Melissa J. Russell is president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut and registrar of voters in Bethlehem.