Enthusiastic support for the Secretary’s Performance Task Force Recommendations

Last summer and fall, the Secretary of the State convened an Elections Performance Task Force to look at elections and what might be done to improve them in the State of Connecticut. Details, presentations, and videos of the Task Force meetings are available at the Secretary’s web site <here> The Secretary issued a final report and recommendations <here>

Given the many members, the brief meetings, and the lack of representation of all interests, we were skeptical when the Task Force was convened. To our delight, we find that we can  offer endorsement of each of the twenty-one recommendations in the report, starting on page 34.

We strongly endorse those recommendations in bold below [our comments in brackets]

Identify measures that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the voting process.

1. The Secretary recommends an amendment to Article 6, Section 7 of the Connecticut State Constitution similar to House Joint Resolution Number 88 of the 2011 legislative session. The amendment would allow the General Assembly to adopt more flexible laws for voting.

2. The Secretary recommends partnering with Professor Heather Gerken to develop a Connecticut Democracy Index. This would allow for benchmarking across municipalities and with other states to track trends in the election process, to measure performance and to gain valuable data that can inform decisions going forward.

3. The Secretary recommends streamlining the absentee ballot process. A working group should be formed to examine and make recommendations around ideas like creating a single absentee ballot application and linking the absentee ballot tracking system with the Centralized Voter Registration System. [Assuming such streamlining does not increase integrity risks or confidence in the process]

4. The Secretary recommends further study of how regionalism could make Connecticut’s electoral  system more cost-effective and consistent. For instance, the use of a statewide online voter registration system, regional on-demand ballot printing, and regional voting centers should all be further explored. [Here we would go further to explore complete regionalizaton, “doing for elections what we have done for probate in Connecticut]

5. The Secretary recommends that the polling place for district elections be the same as for state elections. This will help eliminate voter confusion caused by having to go to different polling locations for different elections. [This would be convenient, yet if mandated, would be challenging for many towns due to different boundaries and contests]

6. The Secretary recommends exploring better ways of coordinating the printing of ballots with programming of memory cards in order to create a more efficient, reliable and cost-effective process.

7. The Secretary recommends the development of a certification process for Registrars of Voters. Additionally, standards and best practices should be developed for that office around issues such as election administration, voter registration and voter outreach. These standards and best practices may need to account for differences in small, medium and large municipalities. Finally, a mechanism for enforcement and, if necessary, the removal of a Registrar of Voters should be created. [We would especially recommend standardization and better practices for post-election audits and recanvasses, along with better manuals, including creating manuals for each pollworker position]

8. The Secretary recommends that a formal study of the cost of elections be undertaken, and that a standardized set of measures for such costs be established.[We would combine this into the Democracy Index, providing ongoing measures and comparison over time]

Maintain the security and integrity of the voting process.

9. The Secretary recommends the development of a secure online voter registration system in Connecticut. The system should be tied to other statewide databases, such as the Department of Social Services, the Department of Developmental Services, and the Department of Motor Vehicles, to allow for verification of data.

10. The Secretary recommends that the state acquire at least one high speed, high volume scanner to be utilized in the post-election auditing process. This centralization of the process will reduce the fiscal and logistical burdens on towns, as well as provide for a more accurate and secure auditing process.[We are a strong supporter of electronic auditing, done effectively and transparently. The number of scanners and their capacities should be a byproduct of an effective electronic auditing pilot, plan, cost benefit analysis, and appropriate law establishing and governing electronic audits]

11. The Secretary recommends that the post-election auditing process be amended to include all ballots that are machine-counted, including those counted centrally.[We would go farther and subject all ballots cast to selection for audit.]

12. The Secretary recommends that a greater emphasis be placed on ballot security. Ballots should be stored in a secure, locked facility. Additionally, two individuals should always be present whenever these facilities are accessed. This policy should be uniformly followed and enforced.

13. The Secretary recommends that the state join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), an interstate data consortium that the Pew Center on the States is currently building. This data center would allow participating states to streamline the processes for registering eligible voters; update records of existing voters; and remove duplicate and invalid records from state voter files. The Secretary stresses the need to include multiple agencies in the database, including those that offer public assistance, interact with people with disabilities, and otherwise come into contact with eligible voters who may not normally visit the Department of Motor Vehicles. Evaluate ways to integrate technology into our election system.

14. The Secretary recommends further exploring the use of new technologies in the election process through pilot programs and examination of other states’ usage. However, the cost and security of any new technologies should be carefully examined. Examples of new technologies for consideration include:

a. Electronic poll books

   b. More advanced voting systems for the voters with disabilities

    c. Online voter registration

15. The Secretary recommends immediate implementation of a statewide web-based electronic reporting system for election results.

16. The Secretary recommends the use of web-based training to standardize election staff training across the state.[We would like to see video training and manuals having a pollworker focus, designed by professional technical writers]

Find ways to increase voter participation, particularly among minorities, young people, people with disabilities, and military and overseas voters.

17. The Secretary recommends Election Day registration in Connecticut and any necessary adjustments to the voter file system to ensure accuracy. Election Day registration has increased voter participation in states where it has been enacted.

18. The Secretary recommends an effort to increase voter participation in Connecticut, with a particular focus on youth, minorities, people with disabilities, and military and overseas voters.

a. Early voting bears further study as a possible mechanism for reaching minority voters. [We are skeptical that early voting has a particular focus on any group of voters]

   b. Since the electorate is becoming more mobile, voter registrations should be mobile as well.
   c. Connecticut’s curbside voting program should be better advertised to voters with disabilities, all polling  places should be easily handicapped accessible, and poll workers at all locations should be properly trained on utilizing the IVS vote by phone system. A viable, better alternative to the IVS system should also be sought.

   d. The military and overseas voting process should be amended to allow for the facsimile transmittal of completed absentee ballot applications. The original application would then be returned in the envelope along with the completed absentee ballot via mail, in order for the ballot to be counted.[Fax transmission should only be required to obtain a blank ballot in situations where the voter cannot print a blank ballot]

e. The military and overseas voting process should be streamlined by the electronic transmission of printable, mailable ballots. This, along with the above recommendation, would eliminate the mailing time of transmitting completed applications and blank ballots through manual post, and would allow for more time for participation by military and overseas voters.

f. The electronic transmission of ballots to military and overseas voters should be further streamlined through the use of the Centralized Voter Registration System.[Having the system aid the overseas voter in downloading their correct blank ballot]

19. The Secretary recommends that existing voter registration provisions included in legislation such as the National Voter Registration Act be fully enforced. The Secretary further recommends that Connecticut’s Department of Corrections be designated as an official voter registration agency.

20. The Secretary recommends a concerted effort to educate the public and the incarcerated population about the voting rights of those detained pre-sentencing and the restoration of voting rights to felons. The Secretary further recommends that the restoration of voting rights be extended to include parolees, as is the case in over a dozen states.

21. The Secretary recommends that Election Day be declared a holiday, as it is in many countries, and/or that elections include in-person voting on a weekend day. This would grant citizens more time to vote and would allow for the use of students and persons with the day off as poll workers.

We note several caveats:

Our endorsement of proposals is conditional. Conditional on the details of any proposed implementation or law. For instance, although we support Election Day Registration, we do not support the current bill before the Legislature which would call for Election Day Registration, because the bill is inadequate to protect the rights of EDR voters, other voters, and could result in chaos and uncertainty.

The report is the Secretary of the State’s, not approved by or endorsed by the Task Force as a whole.

Contained in this report are the findings of the Election Performance Task Force, organized by subcommittee subject matter, with the additional category of voting technology. The Secretary utilized these findings along with feedback from members of the task force, other interested parties, and the public to shape the recommendations that are detailed at the end of this report.

While we endorse the recommendations, we do not endorse the details in the report itself:

  • The statistical information and conclusions do not come close to meeting rigorous standards in justifying the conclusions reached.
  • As noted in the report, the cost of elections information provided is questionable. We find it wildly inaccurate to include data that elections might have been conducted at costs per voter less than the cost of printing a single ballot.
  • We strongly disagree that there is any basis to predict that online voting will be a safe and accepted practice within ten years.

There is a lot to do in all the recommendations. It will take time, money, and deliberate work with everyone at the table. Our hope is that each of the recommendations will be thoroughly explored, evaluated, and acted upon, that none get overlooked.

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