Basic and Bold Steps To Improve Connecticut Elections

As we said last time, “There were many problems! Will we learn anything? Will be do anything? Will we help or aggregate the situation? …Next time it could be different…for better or for worse.” We offer the following short list of items for improvement without breaking the bank. Basic steps that cost little, should almost be assumed. Bold steps that could transform the system, and transcend knee-jerk half steps.

Do for Elections what we have done for Probate. (BOLD) Many of our problems are caused or aggravated by our archaic town by town two+ elected registrars system. Many improvements,  reforms. and economy of scale are limited by this system (e.g. early voting, professionalization, and a strong ballot security). We would favor a system of regional civil service professional leaders, perhaps monitored by elected registrars. The starting point would be a blue-ribbon commission reviewing best practices from other states and recommending a comprehensive solution to Connecticut. The goals would be to Regionalize, Professionalize, Economize.

Avoid long lines caused by disasters, human failings, and unexpected turnout. (BASIC) There were three types of disaster that effected polling places this year, at least two in Connecticut, and an impending disaster looming. The causes were 1) unexpected turnout which should be a cause for celebration,  but not for  for celebrating causing upset voters or to propose knee-jerk solutions 2) Human failure to compute how many lines are needed and how to split them. 3) Storm related requirements to move polling places.What is needed is a standard maximum for the number of voters assigned to single checkin lines for various elections.Collapsing twenty-two polling places into nine is a reasonable thing, but failure to add a few more people to main additional checkin lines is poor economy.

The Presidential Ballot lines managed by Town Clerks, will be replaced by central Election Day Registration (EDR) added to the duties of Registrars. Connecticut’s version of EDR is much more involved than the Presidential Ballot and lightly specified in the law. Registrars and the Secretary of the State need to determine the staffing, equipment, and procedures necessary to serve the law and the public without long lines. The legislature should specify more details in the law (e.g. What exactly is an EDR Ballot? Is the EDR location a Polling Place? Could most EDR voters use a scanner and avoid the costly absentee counting process now required? Are those in line at 8:00 PM entitled to register and vote? What happens when a town does not respond in a timely manner to the legally required “immediate” response from another town?)The current law and model emergency plan provides no guidance in handling EDR when the state registration database or phone lines are unavailable. Contingencies need to be planned in advance and uniform statewide.

Fix the Post-Election Audits to actually provide confidence (BASIC). The audits can be improved without significant expense. Less or equal counting could be done, with better statistical confidence, and more comprehensive coverage. No ballots should be exempt from the audit, originally hand counted and centrally counted absentee ballots should be subject to audit. Standards should be set for determining when to investigate differences between audit and election counts. There is a need for better, standard procedures, and training in performing the audit, along with timely, independent reporting of results and oversight.

Automate Responsively, not Expensively.(Medium BOLD) We have the expensive Help America Vote Act, which was costly and only partially effective. We must avoid knee-jerk reaction. (e.g. calls for expensive Early Voting(*) to cure ling lines, which can be cured by a simple, economical incremental increase in checkin lines, while Florida and Ohio  dramatically demonstrate that Early Voting is not guaranteed to be a cure.) We offer the following items:

Electronic Checkin connected via the internet to the voter registration database. This would improve the accuracy of checkin accounting, provide for faster cross-district transfers, and should have been a prerequisite to EDR, and provide for full polling place EDR. We caution that it will have initial and onging costs for equipment, registration system, and connections. There has to be enough equipment to cover the necessary lines as it does not speedup checking, along with paper backup for emergencies.

Electronic Results Returns and district Moderators Returns. The Secretary of  the State has prototyped a system. It is a good start, yet Registrars logistical concerns need to be addressed. It should be made mandatory by law. It is not costly, but could greatly contribute to accuracy and transparency.

Automate Post-Election Audits. The technology is emerging as practical. It would provide much stronger audits, without the hassles for officials with hand counting. Costs need to be determined. It must be done in a way that provides public transparency and confidence. One more item that would be facilitated if the 169-town system went the way of the green-eye-shade.

This is a short list. We would be completely pleased if all of these reforms were addressed in the near term. Yet, we could and often do suggest many other reforms, some can be accomplished by the Secretary of the State, others by the Legislature. Here we have emphasized economical and strategic steps mostly in the hands of the Legislature.

(*) We do not oppose Early Voting. It can be done well and securely, and poorly. We do believe that to do it well and fairly in Connecticut would be very difficult in Connecticut while we have the 169-town independent election system. In any case, it is not economical.

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