RoundUp: Registrar Error or Election Fraud? – Saving $$$ or Empowering Voters?

We are likely to have several busy news days over the next few weeks as the General Assembly considers changes to the election laws and the 2010 election heads towards the May party conventions.

Court Rules In Hartford Primary

One slate in Hartford recently accused a registrar of illegally certifying another slate.  There is also a potential conflict of interest (probably legal) given that the registrar and two of her relatives are on the slate <earlier coverage> Now a court has ruled the slate should be removed from the ballot, yet because of an appeal the election will go forward with both slates on the ballot. <Courant Article>

“The court has made a finding that there are names on the ballot that do not belong there” [Plaintiffs’ Attorney] Sweeney said…But [Hartford Corporation Counsel] Rose argued that the case boiled down to “an error by the registrar” and said that the court did not have the authority to remove the names from the ballot.  [Judge] Peck said she decided not to terminate the stay because if her ruling is eventually overturned, the election would have already been held.

Courant Proposes Cost Savings At The Expense Of Voters

Also today, the Courant has an editorial proposing centralized voting and no excuse absentee voting to save money in elections: Would ‘Vote Centers’ Work? <read>  The article touts success in Indiana in saving money.  The focus of the editorial is on saving money, but likely at the expense of voter convenience:

Voting centers, an alternative to precinct-based elections, are usually set up in strategic locations and save money because they require fewer workers and voting machines. Centralized electronic voting records are used to ensure security. In some places, centers open before Election Day for early voting. Ideally, vote centers will give local election officials the flexibility to anticipate election turnout and modify the number of locations and the level of staffing…

If the centers have to be open for weeks before the election with paid staff, that might eliminate the savings. If they were only open on Election Day, that might cause crowding that would discourage voting or make it difficult for workers to assist older or handicapped voters. The change in location could inconvenience voters who travel by public transportation…

Even with these caveats, the idea should receive a public airing. We are looking at a massive budget deficit. If regional election centers will save some money, they should be on the table. Perhaps the place to start is with a good idea Ms. Bysiewicz put forward last year, “no excuse” absentee ballots.

We note that these are not early voting centers that add to the convenience of voters, they are a few polling places replacing many at the expense of voter convenience, especially for those dependent on public transportation:  From an article reporting the results in Indiana – the savings based on dramatically consolidating polling places: <read>

Vote centers allow ballots to be cast at any county voting location instead of at home precincts. The Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute reported recently the centers would save every county money. Tippecanoe, Cass and Wayne counties have been piloting the idea.

House Democrats aren’t buying the plan. House Elections Chairman Rep. Kreg Battles of Vincennes wants more study because of questions over electronic poll books, security and other matters.

A Porter County Commissioners task force study in 2009 found the cost savings to taxpayers could climb as high as $200,000 per year. The study showed the county’s poll worker numbers would drop from 640 to about 120.

Vote centers also would mean fewer voting machines would be needed. They cost about $4,000 each and need to be replaced every 10 years.

Vote centers would be an added convenience for citizens who would have the choice of voting near work, home or their child’s school. The bill should pass.

Depending on where they work, live, and their children go to school.  Its hard to imagine that dramatically less polling places would leave many voters closer to the polls.

As we have stated many times we are opposed to the expansion of absentee voting for any purpose.  It disenfranchises voters without their knowledge and risks voting integrity.

Our Testimony On A Flawed Bill

Yesterday we testified to the General Administration and Elections Committee on a bill for Election Day Registration in Connecticut.  We support Election Day Registration and testified in favor of the original bill submitted last year.  Over the course of the year that bill was changed to a form of absentee voting with little safeguards.  This year that bill has been resurrected. I testified in favor of the concept and against the details in the bill.  Once again the motivation is to provide an image of voter empowerment with a focus on saving money and the convenience of election officials: <H.B.5321>  <Testimony>

I support the good intentions and concepts behind H.B.5321, yet I have serious concerns with the specific approaches in the current bill.

I am generally opposed to the expansion of absentee balloting for any purpose. Absentee ballots have security and integrity risks not associated with regular voting. Election day registration may represent over 10% of the votes in an election. Beyond risks to integrity, in every election absentee voters are disenfranchised without their knowledge in two ways:

  • First, they may make a simple mistake in following procedures and have their ballot rejected.
  • Second, voters do not have the opportunity to revote their ballot if by mistake they overvote.

It would serve the voters of Connecticut much better if Election Day Registration (or EDR) were available at each polling place as is the case in five (5) of the six (6) states with EDR as of 2006.  Connecticut could follow the examples of Maine, New Hampshire, or Minnesota. We are piloting a less than adequate system, I presume because of concerns with cost and integrity. I recall testimony before the GAE demonstrating the integrity and effectiveness of polling place EDR in Maine.

I would also recommend that any pilot program include a requirement for independent objective analysis with reporting back to the Legislature, rather than relying only on feedback from election officials. When Secretary Bysiewicz chose new election equipment in 2006, she included an independent professional analysis involving citizen evaluation, along with focus groups of citizens and election officials. Without that study we might well have doubled our costs and be voting today on inadequate touch screen voting equipment.

There are several ways in which polling place EDR could be accomplished. Any EDR method will increase some election day costs, yet there would also be savings in other election day and pre-election day costs.

Major improvements to the bill would include:

  • Requiring voting booths, a ballot box tender, and ballot clerks in central EDR locations to provide the opportunity for a smooth, secure voting process, along with a clear opportunity for voters to correct errors on their ballot.
  • Allowing single polling place towns to provide EDR in the same building as the polling place, with voters voting by optical scanner as usual.
  • Requiring towns with central count absentee ballot locations to use an optical scanner for EDR ballots, rather than the using the “absentee ballot” like process.

In summary, the focus should be on enfranchising voters and encouraging participation, while maintaining voting integrity.

We note no testimony in public in favor of the bill’s absentee-like mechanisms for voting.  Perhaps some was submitted on paper.

Our Editorial:

One clear theme in Connecticut this year is saving money. That is certainly an important goal, but the value delivered for expenditures and the value lost in the name of savings should be recognized and considered.  Should we stop inspecting highways, bridges, school buses, and buildings because it costs money?  Or should we continue because it protects the value of our investment in infrastructure and saves lives?  Should we save on election audits and voting?  Or should we further empower voters and strengthen voting integrity because we value fair elections and a participatory democracy?

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3 responses to “RoundUp: Registrar Error or Election Fraud? – Saving $$$ or Empowering Voters?”

  1. rjs

    This is an issue I have considered for some time, especially given the capability of the scanner/tabulators.

    However, one other consideration which is not being given much attention is the criteria for the polling places themselves (beyond the current requirements):

    a) these should be geographically located so as to avoid undue inconvenience of potential voters – especially those of limited means of transportation;

    b) they should be of sufficient size to accommodate enough tabulators. privacy booths, etc., to ensure a smooth operation and quick voter turnaround;

    c) they should have sufficient parking to accommodate those who drive to the polling centers.

    In 2008, we experienced an extremely high level of voter participation. Even though our federal districts are smaller than our municipal, we nonetheless experienced delays at the polls…and this problem would have been seriously exacerbated had the number of polling places been reduced.

    Fiscal prudence cannot take precedence over our primary duty to encourage and facilitate voter participation.

  2. rjs

    I most definitely agree regarding backup – we had two scanners fail on 3/2/10 before the polls opened…and a higher-than-normal failure rate during pre-testing. This is a concern to me, given the relatively low age of the cards.

    Centralized voting is certainly something to be investigated; however, I’d need more convincing on EDR. My main concern would be the voter who travels from town to town, registering as he/she goes. While the person is likely to be caught, every poll visited would be irrevocably tainted.

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