Conflict of interest generates knee-jerk call for election reform

Press release: Mayor Segarra & Hartford Legislators Call For Election Reform – Registrar of Voters Primary Raises Concerns <read>

This year in Hartford, there is a primary for one of the offices of Registrar of Voters. By the law the current party registrar is responsible for conducting primary elections for their own party. But that naturally creates a conflict of interest when the sitting registrar is also a candidate. This happens quite frequently in Connecticut and is not the only conflict. There can be a conflict when the registrar as a party member and usually a Town Committee member has taken a vote or a position for a particular candidate. Or as happened in Hartford in 2010, the registrar is on a slate for a Town Committee election. A registrar could also be a candidate for higher office and is often the spouse or close relative of a candidate. The list of potential conflicts is almost endless.

Shortsighted, stop gap solutions:

The two failed bills referenced in the press release are stop gaps. One would only apply to large city Town Committee elections. The other would only apply to elections for Registrar of Voters. We also do not like the idea of the Secretary of the State appointing the replacement registrar, that could create an appearance of a conflict of interest and the Secretary may not be that familiar with local individuals qualified and conflict-free to assume the duties. And in Hartford and occasionally other towns we have a third-party registrar candidate running with the sitting registrars administering the election. From the 1st bill:

That title 9 of the general statutes be amended to require (1) a registrar of voters who is a candidate in a primary or at an election, for the office of registrar of voters, to recuse himself or herself from official duties relating to such primary or election, and (2) the Secretary of the State to appoint a person to assume such duties during such period.

Every even year election, the registrars are candidates so they both would be replaced, for half of the elections! Where would 338+ qualified candidates be found? Especially if the state mandated certification of Registrars of Voters is ever materialized? Remember in most primaries and all elections there are multiple contests, it might be difficult to define fairly segregate the duties associated with one contest from the others.

A Comprehensive Solution

As we have said before in several ways, modernization and solving election problems in Connecticut will be almost impossible to achieve within the existing system of 338+ local registrars, many of whom are very very part time. The comprehensive solution is to “Do for Elections what we have done for Probate“. Consolidation, Professionalization, and Regionalization. Not a panacea, but in our opinion a prerequisite.

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