Early Voting in Connecticut – Part 2 – Implementing Change

This is the second in a series on Early Voting in Connecticut. See <Part 3 – New Voting Systems> or <Part 1 – Expectations>

In this post we will cover Implementing Change – how election changes have been implemented in Connecticut and the risks of doing too much too fast and at the most challenging times. In the future we will address more specific issues associated with some of the changes coming. Then get to the tradeoffs in implementing in-person early voting.

 

Implementing Change

As we discussed last time, one of the big changes coming is in-person early voting.

In addition to that:

  • In the last few months, the Secretary of the State (SOTS) and his office have selected and are presumably beginning implementing a replacement for the Central Voters Registration System (CVRS). That same system may replace the current Election Night Reporting System (ENR)
  • UConn under the direction of the SOTS has begun evaluating various electronic pollbooks (ePollbooks).
  • There are calls for replacing our aging scanners with newer models. Actually, the second half of 2023 would be an ideal time for UConn to begin a technical evaluation.

Not just for the State, but for any institution there are good methods for implementing change: Do one change at a time, test as much as possible, then test the change on a small scale, and implement it system wide at the least disruptive time.

Yet, when it comes to election systems, some changes can’t be done piecemeal: Early voting must be available to all voters at the same time or it would be a civil rights/equality issue. The CVRS must be implemented statewide at the same time (it can be implemented between elections, but some of its functions must work on election day and the days before – functions that are not generally done at other times of the year, under circumstances of demand for creating pollbooks right before the election and registration checking on election day.

Using new voting machines or new ePollbooks can be done in a few municipalities first.

Connecticut has a good recent record of planning such changes, but not a great record in the actual implementation.

In 2005 the SOTS Office initiated evaluation of voting systems for Connecticut with UConn testing, followed by public demonstrations of machines in four locations around the State, also with focus groups of registrars, those with disabilities, and technologists providing feedback on the machines. In late 2005 machines were selected. Then in November 2006 those machines were used in 25 municipalities in the even year State election. Procedures were developed in 2006, refined in 2007 followed by registrar, pollworker, and public education, then implemented statewide in the September 2007 municipal primary. Still various problems, concerns, and complaints were found in the November 2007 elections. There will few problems. Many of those complaints and concerns were normal for the transition from lever machines to scanners – a couple of years later New York went through a similar process with a different brand of scanner with the same problems, concerns, and complaints. This was a positive example of how extensive evaluation, planning, and training can have a great result.

In 2013 the state implemented Election Day Registration, with several problems which we had predicted – mainly that by law being in line by 8:00 was insufficient to be allowed the opportunity to register and vote. But those problems were not addressed. In 2014 those problems resulted in long lines at EDR locations with many voters turned away, including those still in line at 8:00pm. Despite news stories across the State those problems were not addressed in law for several years. The long lines somewhat reduced still remain, however, now anyone in line by 8:00 can have the opportunity to register and vote. This is an example of inadequate planning and a deaf ear by the SOTS, the General Assembly, and election officials, many of whom really did not have sympathy for voters who failed to register by the regular deadlines.

In 2012 the SOTS and registrars implemented the new Election Night Reporting system in parallel with the regular system. It was dead on arrival as polling place moderators refused or were incapable of inputing reams of data after a long day via their smart phones (many did not even have or understand smart phones at the time.) Once again this was all predicted. The system was designed completely in isolation from the real world. There was no feedback from actual officials, no testing with the actual polling place officials. Worse the SOTS Office attributed the failure to the officials (Even today I would be challenged to enter that much data from my cell phone, after a long day. Others are in polling places with poor cell coverage and no internet.) Finally, years later the system was redesigned and after a couple of elections was working well with officials in town halls putting in the data from desktops and laptops. Once again, a predictable failure abetted by tone deaf State officials.

Lessons We Hopefully Will Follow

Do one change at a time, test as much as possible, then test the change on a small scale, and implement it system wide at the least disruptive time.

There are a lot of calls for multiple changes in a very short period, from the public, from advocates, and from election officials. In subsequent posts we will address some of those changes in the light of these pressures and the lessons we hopefully will follow. Then get to the tradeoffs in implementing in-person early voting.

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