SOTS Plan: Real problems, yet no solution

One Wednesday, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill held a press conference to introduce her solutions to the recent problems with elections caused by registrars in several towns.  While the problems are real, her solutions are unlikely to make a significant positive difference. <read>

The details will be in the actual legislation, but from the press release and press conference we can assume:

  • Towns will have the option of appointing a single registrar, rather than the current two elected registrars.  The changes are not mandatory and would require a charter revision in each town for them to apply.
  • We are not sure what the Secretary means by non-partisan.  In any case, the change is likely, in many towns, especially those that have had problems, to result in a partisan appointment by a partisan town council. The effect might be to further politicize the town clerk position as well.
  • Certification of registrars is a good idea. Not sure that it can be mandated for an elected registrar, yet a good program would provide needed education and where certified individuals are available it could be a positive factor in the selection of elected or appointed registrars.  Yet it depends – depends on the content and the rigor of certification.  I am a certified moderator. I can attest that the certification program is useful, yet has its problems. Revised a couple of years ago, the online portion of the training was useful, drawn out, and too simplistic – yet the online tests had errors, expecting incorrect answers.
  • Mandatory yearly training is also a good idea. Yet there is currently yearly non-mandatory training available, attended by the majority of registrars. Our understanding from those that regularly attend is that the training from the Secretary’s Office is all but useless.
  • “As a municipal employee the Registrar would have all the support staff necessary, and would be required to follow all state and federal election laws, as well as election directives issued by the Secretary of the State”.  We see no reason moving the job to the town clerk would, in itself, force towns to fully staff the function.  Clearly registrars today are required to follow all election laws.  Of course, if the long sought change to the law to require officials to follow SOTS directives were passed than that would be the case.

The problems are real.  We need more professional election administration.  In our opinion these solutions do not go far enough.

  • They would change from two opposing officials, to a single individual in each town – making it easier for a single individual to manipulate or even rig the system toward the party in power, or toward their chosen path.
  • There would still be a need for multiple competent individuals in each town, especially in case sickness, death, or family emergency occurred to the single chief election official.
  • The problem of registrars with insufficient resources, insufficient hours to do a good job, keep up with technology, and attract qualified individuals would largely remain, especially in small towns.
  • The SOTS said: “Other New England states leave election administration to the local municipal clerk, or through local bipartisan boards of election who hire professional staff to manage day-to-day operations.” We say, “No system is perfect.”  For instance here is how well the system works up north in East Longmeadow: <read>

This “solution” will do little to help, and might actually might make things worse. Its not worth the effort and the risks. As we have said many times, the solution is to “Do for elections what we have done for probate: Regionalize, Professionalize, Economize“.

As might be expected, there has been quite a bit of push back from registrars.  Here are some of the recent press reports, quoting some of the critics.:

<CTMirror, including some of my comments>
<Newtown Bee>
<Bristol Press Editorial>




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