Courant: Legislative Agenda for Voting

Hartford Courant: Agenda: For The Legislature – The state budget isn’t the only thing needing fixing <read>

Among other things it covers elections and voting:

Elections reforms. Let’s not let embarrassing memories of the Bridgeport vote-counting fiasco dim before taking corrective action in a number of election-related areas: campaign financing, voter turnout and election procedures.

The legislature should consider:

•Ending the Citizens’ Election Program’s subsidy of public money to candidates in uncontested races for the legislature and statewide offices. Giving money to candidates with no opponents is a bad use of public funds when the state faces a projected budget deficit of at least $3.5 billion.

•Taking steps to increase voter turnout — pitifully low during the 2010 primaries — by authorizing no-excuse absentee balloting (a form of early voting) and Election Day registration, once a statewide voter registry is complete. Other forms of early voting, such as by mail, should also be considered.

•Vesting the state with more power to run elections. At the very least — in light of Bridgeport’s unthinkable mistake in failing to buy enough ballots for the November election — the secretary of the state should be formally tasked with making certain that municipalities have enough ballots on hand. State law should decree that towns order an ample number — say, enough for 50 to 75 percent of registered voters — with the state paying for them.

•Ensuring that elections are run competently by requiring that local registrars are trained and certified, like town clerks. One nonpartisan certified registrar in each municipality might be the ideal. Certainly there is no need for one registrar per political party.

We agree that the legislature should give attention to election reform, but should consider carefully the reforms they choose.  The history of voting is knee-jerk reactions to problems which bring more of the same.  For example the well intended Help America Vote Act (HAVA) hastily passed to solve the problems of Florida in 2000, it brought some good reforms where states chose optical scan voting, along with huge costs and risks for those that chose touch screen voting.  Some of the problems we are dealing with are because HAVA insufficiently researched and safe voting technology and the methods required to go with it.

Election reform should be based on solid research and experience, rather than myth. We point out that the latest research refutes the Courant’s claim that no-excuse absentee voting increases turn-out, yet in every election we learn of organized absentee vote fraud.  <read>  We do support election day registration because that same research demonstrates it does increase turn-out and it has not led to fraud.

We agree that the Secretary of the State should have more power to oversee elections and ballots should be ordered. But we would prefer a rigid minimum formula for ballot orders based on past turn-out in similar elections, with local officials required to follow the formula and allowed to increase the order based on local knowledge. Ordering 50% across the board would be woefully inadequate in many towns who regularly win the Democracy Cup for much higher turn-out, even 75% would not be enough in some. But either would be huge overkill in many referendums and primaries, especially in large cities.

The Courant’s idea of centralized ballot ordering would add considerable work to the Secretary of the State’s Office and should be carefully considered, planned and budgeted before it is implemented, perhaps it may even require Constitutional  Amendments to accomplish. Currently ballots are ordered by towns that determine and specify the candidates and hold drawings for candidate positions on the ballot. Since ballots often differ district by district in 800 plus districts spread across 169 towns it would be quite a task for the Secretary of the State to create all orders centrally and anticipate local conditions to estimate ballot counts in a primary in Bridgeport or a referendum in New London.

We would also order caution in changing to a single elected registrar in every town. The courant has been in favor of this idea for some time. <read>  Connecticut has little experience in electing non-partisan elected officials. One example is the Probate Court which most agree did not work out.  The solution there was a combination of regionalization and increasing qualifications.  That might work for elections as well.  We note that in this same editorial, the Courant would go further for the Probate Court and make it an appointed office.

More probate reform. Connecticut should also move on to Phase 2 of its bold reform of the ancient probate court system by requiring the appointment, rather than election, of judges of probate. They should be chosen on a merit basis.

Appointment, supported by such respected figures as Hartford Judge of Probate Robert Killian, would remove a huge conflict of interest inherent in the election of judges: campaign contributions from attorneys and others with business in the probate court.

The system has been consolidated and modernized. Now it’s time to protect judges from undue influences.

We should tread carefully, but consider a comprehensive solution for elections that might well  include regionalization, higher training, higher qualifications, and civil service election management. We note that probate has noting to do with politics so that electing election officials may be, if anything, more risky that electing probate judges.


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