One. That’s the number of people Secretary of the State Denise Merrill believes should be in charge of administering elections in each municipality.
Under a proposal pitched Wednesday by Merrill, the individual in charge of elections would be a municipal employee and would need a minimum of at least a bachelor’s degree or four years’ experience in election administration. The single registrar would not be elected, but would be appointed by the town’s legislative body.
Currently, registrars of voters are elected officials and there’s nothing in state law that would allow for their removal. Merrill cited unprofessional behavior during the past election as one of the reasons for pitching the new system.
In Hartford, voter lists didn’t make it to at least six voting locations before 6 a.m. and a number of voters were unable to immediately cast their ballots, including Merrill and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The Hartford City Council has begun proceedings to remove all three registrars of voters after an independent investigation of the incident.
But Merrill said her proposal was inspired by more than what happened in Hartford.
She said voters have been disenfranchised by registrars of voters in other communities such as Fairfield, Naugatuck, and Bridgeport, too.
“We have now had two elections in the last four years where Connecticut has made national news for problems on Election Day, and enough is enough,” Merrill said. “… How we run elections in Connecticut is too political, while lacking professionalism and accountability.”
She said “no other state administers elections this way,” meaning no other state has two partisan elected officials overseeing elections.
But Merrill will face some steep opposition to the proposal from the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut. The group has hired Sullivan & LeShane to lobby on its behalf.
Melissa Russell, president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, said it is “vital that we preserve the two-party elected registrar system in order to maintain the checks and land ‘two sets of eyes’ on every step of the election process.”
But Russell said her group is up to working with Merrill and others on “a thoughtful and well-balanced solution to the challenges we will face in coming elections.”
Merrill admitted that getting legislation passed against the wishes of a powerful political lobby, like the registrars, is “a heavy lift.”
But she added that she thinks there’s a willingness to look at some of these situations, “and we’ll see what the legislature will do.”
In December, Rep. Ed Jutila, co-chairman of the General Administration and Elections Committee, said the time has come to look at how the state registers voters and manages elections. Jutila will hold a public hearing on Merrill’s proposals on March 9.
Merrill said she’s on the same page as the registrars when it comes to reporting election results in a faster manner using technology. She said an election night reporting system should be up and running before the next statewide election in 2016.