Hartford Courant Editoral Board interviews SOTS primary candidates

Gerry Garcia <listen>

Denise Merrill <listen>

The Courant brought up several  items of consolidation and downsizing.  “Reginal voting centers without voting precincts in every town”; consolidating the SEEC and the SOTS office, possibly eliminating the SEEC; and having more than one registrar in each municipality:

  • There are compelling reasons why we could save money by rationalizing election management just like the Probate Courts, done well we could also improve voter service and increase confidence in integrity – we would support evaluating various alternatives to the New England system of town by town election management.  But the Courant would go farther and eliminate local polling places with “Reginal voting centers without voting precincts in every town” – that would be a very bad idea making it more difficult and confusing, not easier for voters, especially those with mobility difficulties, those without cars, and those without access to public transit. The states who use regional voting centers, use them for early voting, preserving local polling places for election day – that provides more voter service at increased cost and with additional integrity and enfranchisement considerations. (This issue deserves much more than one paragraph, perhaps we will tackle that more extensively in the future at CTVotersCount)
  • The Courant is also a proponent of a single registrar in each town. We do not understand their faith in a single partisan elected official to manage elections, presumably registrars vary in integrity just like Connecticut Mayors and Governors.  As we have said before, it is not written in stone tablets that Hartford registrars must be full time and each have a deputy. There could be three part time registrars when a third is elected.  I also note a strong bias against the “third”-party registrar in Hartford, when she actually was the “second”-party selection of the voters of Hartford.
  • The Courant and the candidates are considering consolidating some or all of the functions of the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC) into the Secretary of the State’s (SOTS) Office.  We see no reason why some functions like registering candidate committees and administering the Citizens Election Program could not be managed by either office. Yet we are not so sure there are significant savings possible as these functions require significant resources and unique detailed expertise, no matter where they are located. We do not support including the enforcement function within the SOTS office, we need independent enforcement.  We would go further and transfer the responsibility for auditing elections to an office independent of the Secretary of the State (perhaps the SEEC) – as recommended by the Connecticut Citizen Election Audit Coalition, and every good government group we know, including Common Cause, The League Of Women Voters, Verified Voting, and The Brennan Center for Justice.

Candidate Garcia is in favor of large scale mail voting, which we oppose:

  • CTVotersCount readers know that we are opposed to large scale mail balloting, including unlimited absentee voting. A significant number voters are disenfranchised by ABs when envelopes are not filled out correctly etc. Also voters lose the capability of having the scanner reject overvotes so that they can vote again. This risk disproportionately impacts new voters, less educated, and non-English speaking voters.There is a risk of fraud and intimidation in voting.  The trail from mail box to post-office, to contract trucks, to the town hall mail room, to the clerk’s office. They know who you are, where you live, your ethnicity – ballots can be “lost” that are likely to vote a certain way. In the last election 12,500 of voters in CA were disenfranchised because the post office delivered ballots too late. Oregon may check the signatures, however, the last we heard very few were ever rejected as not matching.  It could be the reverse, with many signatures rejected as  not matching which would also be suspect, especially if many were rejected in some areas and few in others – if many were rejected in disadvantaged areas, some would charge official fraud, others retail/candidate fraud, and others racism.

Candidate Merrill is in favor of early voting like she says they have  in Florida, “in every public library”, we are skeptical:

  • To vote in every public library for seven days before an election and maintain integrity would be hugely expensive. Assuming each of our 169 towns has at least one public library (or would need at least one polling place) and would need about half the staffing(*) of an average election day polling place.  This would be 169 towns * 7 days * 1/2 costs = 600 regular polling place costs.  This would be in the range of doubling the current election day costs for municipal elections/primaries and increasing the costs of Federal elections/primaries by 70%.
  • Our understanding is that early voting in Florida started in 2002 and is not voting “in every library” , it is voting in a few voting centers in each county(**).  An increase in costs, but not as significant as it could be if voting were in every library. A moderate number of voter centers  might be worth it in Connecticut, if we were willing to pay for it. It would seem to require a prerequisite change away from local control/management of elections.

We are in favor of election day registration, based on long successful experience in other states, even without online access in each polling place. However, Candidate Merrill makes a good case for fixing the voter registration system as a prerequisite.

We applaud the Courant for conducting and making these interviews public.  We note a strong emphasis on the elections role of the Secretary of the State – too often we have seen an emphasis by candidates on the business registration aspects of the job.  The strong concerns of the Editorial Board seem to be saving money in election administration and increasing turnout. We note however, a shortage of questions and concern on voting integrity, ballot access(***),  serving those with disabilities, and the education of election officials.


(*) We assume a polling place in each library would have with less volume and less hours.  To maintain integrity and voter service, would still require, in our opinion,  at least two assistant registrars from opposing parties, a ballot clerk, a machine tender and a relief worker – and this assumes we can use these officials to also perform the duties of checkers and trainer/greeter, while one of the officials serves as moderator and is a certified moderator – this is also approximate considering the need for extra security each night, staffing in the registrars office for the normal stream of questions from the polling place, and the need for a machine to serve those with disabilities.

(**)  Research online indicates that Broward County had 17 early voting centers in November 2008, with most but not all in libraries, and by our count, 39 library branches.

American Political Association Report, excerpts:

In response to the chaos of the 2000 general election, Florida adopted legislation aimed at ridding the election system of its problems.In response to the chaos of the 2000 general election, Florida adopted legislation aimed at ridding the election system of its problems…Beginning in 2002, county elections supervisors could choose to offer early voting, but it was not uniformly required or implemented across the state until 2004…One oft-cited problem was the number of sites available to voters. Generally, too few machines led to long lines and extended waits. More specifically, however, there was heavy criticism from many interest groups and minority communities about the lack of early voting sites in areas where black, Latino, and low-income residents could vote. When William E. Scheu replaced John Stafford as Duval County election supervisor, he quickly added sites at four regional libraries.

(***) By ballot access, we mean changes like: Non-partisan ballots used in almost all states except Connecticut and New York;  Review of third party requirements for ballot access and participation in the Citizens Election Program;


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