Ambitious agenda should be reasoned and well-planned

In today’s print edition of the Hartford Courant, one in a series of editorials setting an agenda for the State, Agenda 2015: Ambitious Goals For The State, one portion focuses on elections:

Elections

Isn’t it time Connecticut’s registrars came into the 21st century? Hartford was so unprepared for Election Day that President Obama had to beg voters who had given up waiting to vote to try again.

State law should be changed to let towns and cities appoint a single trained nonpartisan registrar. The current system under which two registrars (or more) are elected for each town is expensive, wasteful, inefficient. Connecticut needs to professionalize these offices or have municipal clerks take over the job. U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is right to call for reforming the state’s entire election system in 2015.

The state must professionalize voting too. Machines here could transmit results electronically, as in Massachusetts, but they aren’t allowed to. Instead, pages of results are hand-transcribed and faxed to the state the next day. What is this, 1992?

And can the legislature silence those irritating, intrusive political robocalls that invade households at election time? Though most unsolicited pitches are against the law, political robocalls are legal. Some states ban or restrict them. So should Connecticut.

We diverge from the Courant in our opinion. We continue to point out that the most comprehensive system of election administration reform would be to regionalize elections, obtaining some of the same benefits obtained by regionalizing probate.  Editorial: Diagnosis before cure. Planning before plunging ahead.

We really have two basic problems with election administration.  One predominantly in small towns and another in large towns.  In smaller towns there is often a lack of sufficient funds and time for very part time registrars to keep up with the laws, requirements, and technology, and to have staff members to gain such experience to be possible replacements. In large towns there are sufficient funds and staff, yet in some there is a a lack of professional actions – apparently replaced by some incompetence and excuse making. Patronage and selecting candidates by party loyalty often contributes to the problem. Some of these same problems exist in mid-sized towns as well.  It would be unfair and highly inaccurate to paint all registrars with this same brush. Most are of individuals of integrity, some in large towns are very competent or employ competent staff, many in small towns expend the efforts necessary despite low pay.

No system is perfect. There are states with effective county administrators, elected or appointed. Yet there are areas with incompetent and obviously unfairly partisan officials appointed, and elected.

Its hard to believe that registrars appointed by the Hartford or Bridgeport Council’s (or any towns) would reduce partisan action/pressure. It might work sometimes, and not work other times. That is no improvement. Registrars make important decisions effecting who is on the ballot, who runs polling places, and when to recanvass a suspicious result. In 2010 the Secretary of the State’s Office reached an agreement with the registrars in Bridgeport to audit every district after the election day debacle – the agreement was nixed by the Mayor and city attorneys. As for saving money, its the council’s that set the salaries for registrars and deputies today.

Moving elections to the clerks would be close to moving deck chairs on the Titanic.  It would not solve the time and money problems for small towns.  For large towns it would not change the risks of political pressure or in itself save money.

We do need more professionalism in election administration. Less partisan, more professional administration. That requires some form of education and certification, plus a career path so individuals can learn the job and make elections a career. That is why we recommend rationalization with appointed officials.

Also, Professionalization does not include ignoring science. There is a reason we do not connect our scanners to the internet to report results. The Professionals at Uconn agree with other computer scientists and security experts that connecting voting machines to the Internet or phone systems is unsafe.  That is why we do not to it.  In fact, Connecticut is much earlier than many other states in reporting election results.  Where we need professionalism is in taking a bit more time to report more accurate, more complete results.

 

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