Too Many Registrars? Or Too Little Thought?

The history of voting in the United States is a series of knee-jerk reactions.  Punch cards and lever machines to prevent problems with paper ballot skulduggery; Costly, hackable touch screens replacing levers and punched cards after the 2000 debacle in Florida. Once again, the Hartford Courant is ready for immediate knee-jerk action.

Editorial, Three Hartford Registrars Is $200,000 Too Many – Odd law burdens Hartford with unnecessary costs <read>

Wouldn’t you know, Hartford’s three registrars of voters can’t get along and are squabbling among themselves. This is not new, but things have gotten so bad that Mayor Pedro Segarra has offered to serve as a mediator to resolve disagreements.

This problem could be permanently resolved if the legislature would get off its keister. The city shouldn’t have three registrars. It does because of a quirk in state election law.

The law says the candidates for registrar of voters who garner the highest and second-highest number of votes win the posts. But if a major-party candidate — Democrat or Republican — is not among the top two finishers, that candidate must also be named a registrar.

In 2008, Urania Petit petitioned her way onto the Hartford ballot as a registrar candidate for the Working Families Party, and then outpolled the Republican registrar, Salvatore Bramante. The result is that both of them, along with Democrat Olga Iris Vazquez, all became registrars. A registrar in Hartford makes $80,000 per year. Add costs for staff, benefits, computers, etc., and each registrar costs the city about $200,000.

This is too stupid for words. The city is in dire fiscal straits and it has to waste $200,000 on a completely unnecessary job. That spending could go toward parks or public works employees, police officers, reading consultants — or it could be eliminated to lower the budget. If Hartford is going to waste money, why not at least make it fun and drop it in small bills from a plane over the city?

The legislature needs to change the law in its next session. Hartford could do just fine with one professional, nonpartisan registrar. It certainly doesn’t need three

We agree that Connecticut would likely be better off with regional, civil-service, professional election administration.  Such a change requires much thought and planning, just like the consolidation of Probate Court. Actually changing election administration would require much more planning since it would involve not just consolidation, but a complete change in the system. Such a change would have to account for many changes  in the law, the Connecticut Constitution, new ways of oversight, integrity considerations, and a significant transition plan.

That is not what the Courant is proposing here. They want the Legislature to do something to change Hartford to a single appointed registrar. Who would do the appointing? Who would watch out for the interests of voters along with candidates and parties of opposing interests? Which cities would this apply to? Or would each small town need to somehow appoint a person to a very very part time job? How could qualified candidates be found and vetted?  What guarantee would there be of such candidates being available and actually being appointed?

The Editorial Board also demonstrates a great lack of creativity suggesting that each registrar in Hartford must be paid $80,000 and have a deputy. As we have suggested before, three registrars could each be part time, paid less, and/or do the job with fewer deputies.

Reference the recent issue in Hartford and our past editorials. <Hartford Registrars: Fighting Disrupts City Office> <Let us consider doing for Elections what we have done for Probate> <Downsizing Newspaper Recommends Downsizing Registrars>

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