Hartford: Democracy is worth voting NO on question 3. Don’t be misled.

On Tuesday voters in Hartford will vote on three changes to the Charter. The third question:

Ballot Question No. 3
Shall the electors of the City of Hartford approve and adopt the revisions to chapter III. $7 pertaining to the specific duties [second sentence of $7(A)], Operational Standards [$7(B)], training an certification [$7(B)91] and appointment of the Registrars of Voters [$7(C)]?

The proposed Charter (page 7) would:

If permitted by General Statues the Registrars of Voters shall be appointed by the City Council to serve for an indefinite term.

Also it would require:

the Registrars of Voters and any deputy or permanent assistants, upon no more that one hundred and eighty (180) Days following hiring, shall participate at the next scheduled session regarding any certification program for Registrars of Voters, as set forth in the General Statues in order to obtain certification by the Secretary of the State; or in the event, there is no such program any continuing education programs offered by national organizations or associations pertaining to local election administration.

Let us consider some implications that might not be readily apparent:

  • The change would allow the partisan majority of the Hartford Town Council to appoint a single Registrar, qualified or not, at any time. Including right before, after, and between the election and certification or recanvass.
  • They could appoint any number of Registrars, one, two, three or more.
  • The current Council would likely appoint a Democrat to oversee Republican and Working Families primaries.
  • There currently is no state certification program for Registrars of Voters
  • The Registrars, Deputies, and Assistants are not required to be certified, ever. They are only required to “participate in” a program. The Charter proposal does not require Certification or even completing an entire program.

There would be every opportunity for partisan control of elections and thus Democracy by a single party bent on maintaining its control of all aspects of City government. Less oversight and less Democracy.

Why would anyone but a foe of Democracy support such a move?

Perhaps if they were [mis]led by the Hartford Courant Editorial Board into voting for this change under the false premises that the current law mandates unnecessary expenses in unneeded excess.  The Editorial Board has been spearheading this change since before the third party Registrar was first elected:

Sept 2008: Downsizing Newspaper Recommends Downsizing Registrars
Nov 2008: CT: Courant: “How Stupid Is This?” (not our words, the Courant’s)
Aug 2009: Hartford: Wasting $ As Usual (Sometimes checks and balances are worth it)
Oct 2011: Too Many Registrars? Or Too Little Thought?
Oct 2012: A Tale in two Courant Editorials
July 2013:Well intended misstep on Connecticut’s horizon?
Two or three Registrars is not a guarantee, especially in primaries:
Mar 2010: RoundUp: Registrar Error or Election Fraud? – Saving $$$ or Empowering Voters?  Further, could we expect a Registrar appointed by one party to effectively administer a competing party’s primary – or expect public trust and credibility?

And in today’s edition we have another misleading editorial: Hartford Charter Changes Worth Voting On <read>

We support these changes, and enthusiastically support a proposal to end the city’s having three registrars of voters.

An anachronistic state law says that if a third-party candidate running for registrars beats one of the major-party candidates, the major-party candidate gets to be a registrar anyway. Since 2008,when a Working Families candidate defeated a Republican, the city has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars on three registrars and deputies.

The charter changes would allow the city to appoint “one or more” trained, nonpartisan registrars. It would require a small change in state law, which hopefully will be forthcoming.

We do not use the word “misleading” lightly. We have three problems with this Editorial, in addition to the other issues we have been articulating with the proposal:

  • It is misleading to say appoint ‘trained’ Registrars because a) The proposal clearly states that the appointments can occur before any training. b) There is no state certified training program. and c) It depends on what you mean by ‘trained’, as the law only requires participation in training.
  • Since multiple Registrars can still be appointed, there is no guarantee that the Courant’s touting of savings by having only one would be realized. And even one can spend as freely as three, especially with no counter balance.
  • Finally, calling for a non-partisan Registrar, does not make it so, especially if, that person is appointed by a partisan body.

As we have said many times, we have a concern, a criticism, and an alternative proposal:

Concern: Having three registrars in Hartford has a purpose and is reasonable, and less risky than the Charter proposal.

Why have two registrars? It is a system of checks and balances. Each can watch the other and watch out for the interests of their party.

But, what about Hartford with a weak Republican Party and a substantial Working Families Party? For the same reasons most towns have a Republican and a Democratic Registrar, under the current system, Hartford needs a Democratic and a Working Families Registrar.

Why then have three, if the Republicans are a non-factor in Hartford? Because Republicans are a factor in Connecticut.

We had a close race for Governor in 2010. It all came down to Bridgeport. What if it all came down to Hartford and there was no Republican Registrar – who would trust the result, everyone would blame the Registrars, if there were only the Democrat and Working Families.

The Charter proposal would have one registrar, appointed by a Council Majority. Good grief! Unlike the position of Town Clerk – there are no official qualifications for Registrar – no Certification of Registrars in Connecticut.

Who would trust an election run by a single partisan appointed official?

Criticism of the Argument for the Costs of Three

Hartford Can Be Creative! Beyond Hartford there are 168 towns with two elected registrars, each! Many are very part-time. They fit the registrar and staff hours to the job to be accomplished.

Hartford can do the same thing. If it takes two full time registrars, two full time deputies, and some Assistants, then make the Registrars part-time, say 2/3s. If you still want three full time Deputies, then cut the number of Assistants and make the Deputies salaries half way between Deputies and Assistants.

Unfortunately, with only one appointed registrar, creativity could result in higher costs!

Alternative: Regionalize, Professionalize, Economize

The current system is not perfect – no system is! What would we recommend to the State?

Do for elections what we have done for Probate, for the same reasons and benefits – Regionalize, Professionalize, Economize. Consider best practices from other states.

Regional, professional, election administrators and staff. Not fifty regions like Probate. Perhaps 5-7 voting regions in each Congressional District. You want each region big enough to support at least five to seven full time staff, creating a career path of experienced deputies.

There is no perfect system. I would like to see a Blue Ribbon Commission formed to study best practices in other states. Perhaps municipalities should still elect UNPAID registrars and have UNPAID Election Boards that guide and audit the work of professional regional election administrators.

Let us remember, the problems come when there is a close highly contested election, where the checks and balances are critical –That is why Hartford voters should not tolerate this change.

Elections are critical. Do not vote for a single appointed registrar.

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