WFSB: What It Takes To Be A Registrar – Politics Play Out In Registrar’s Office

The I-Team provides a bit of an introduction to our unique system of 339 local elected Registrars of Voters along with some interesting tidbits <read>

“The secretary of state’s office sets the rules and sets the regulations, but we have very little power over local decision making,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.Registrars’ offices are in each of the state’s 169 cities and towns.

There are at least two in every office, a Republican and Democrat, who are nominated by their parties and most often run unopposed. Responsibilities include running the polls on Election Day, but also maintaining the voter rolls, and making sure voting machines are available and in working order — to name just a few things.

“We want to assure the voters that their elections are clean,” said Karen Doyle Lyons, Republican registrar in Norwalk.The I-Team’s research showed most registrars are part time and do not receive benefits.

The ones from Burlington earned just $1,900 a year, but registrars are full time in the state’s larger cities.In Bridgeport, the two registrars each earn $65,000.

In Hartford, there are three registrars because of a significant third party, and they each receive $80,000 plus benefits, and they often have full-time support staff…

Connecticut is the only state where a registrar from each political party is elected into office. Many registrars told the I-Team while this may seem inefficient, it has worked literally for centuries.

“If you had one person, you’d be paying them twice as much because you’re splitting up the work,” said Will Brinton, Republican registrar in Bethany.

Readers may recall we suggested a pay cut for the Hartford registrars so that three could do the same job at the same rate as two.

Urania Petit is one of three [Hartford registrars]  making $80,000 there and she’s with the Working Families Party.”The law says if I got one vote over a major party, and in this case it was the Republican Party, I become a registrar, but the major party stays,” Petit said.

Petit said she tried to take a pay cut and she was instructed not to.

She told the I-Team she tried to share the load in the office, but the Democratic registrar of voters would not let her.”I receive a memo one time that said if a Democrat came into the office,

I could not serve that Democratic voter, yet still the office is nonpartisan,” she said.

Readers may recall how this non-partisan thing goes, when a slate was ruled intelligible to run, just one year ago: Registrar of Voters suit: Alleged to have fudged petitions for herself and relatives

Last week we testified to the Legislature. Also testifying was Judi Beaudreau, Registrar of Voters in Vernon, for whom we have worked on three election days. Judi and I do not agree on everything, but we certainly agreed when Judi testified for consolidation. We should consider doing for elections what we have done for  probate in Connecticut. As Judi suggested to the I-team:

Beaudreau, a registrar with almost 30 years experience, said many of her colleagues are underpaid, overworked and unappreciated, but added that’s not always the case.

“Registrars come into the job they don’t even have computer skills,” Beaudreau said. “A lot of them are in fear they are going to lose their job.

Well, maybe some of them should.”Beaudreau explained in a number of towns, the registrars of voters remains a patronage job.

“What happens now in the system is that the political parties will pick a person to run for the office, and it may be a person who has put stamps on envelopes or labels on envelopes. Nobody else has the guts to say it because it would be political suicide to ’em,” she said.

And Beaudreau said many registrars’ offices have become so poisoned by politics they cannot operate effectively.”Politics has got to stay out of the elections,” Beaudreau said…

Beaudreau believes just one registrar, who is not elected but has some kind of training certification and is chosen by the state, could work in Connecticut’s larger communities, and smaller towns could get by without one at all, instead having a regional approach, much the way probate judges have been reorganized.

“Each of these small little towns would be just another polling place, but there would be one major registrar, and if political parties needed to have representation in the office, have deputies, one from each political party,” Beaudreau said.

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