A bill aimed at establishing stricter standards for registrars of voters received final passage Monday, putting the state one step closer to a more accountable election system.
Senate Bill 1051, a priority for Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, mandates annual training for registrars, ensures expedited vote collection, and gives election officials access to an online database to help register new voters on Election Day.
The legislation also allows for the option to remove registrars in extreme cases of negligence or dereliction of duty — an alternative born from the series of events that happened in Hartford during the last election.
According to a 42-page report, errors and omissions by Hartford election officials, dysfunctional relationships, a lack of leadership, and the absence of a chain of command contributed to the city of Hartford’s Election Day problems, which deprived voters in some instances of the right to vote.
A Superior Court judge told the Hartford City Council in April that it didn’t have the authority to remove the three registrars, but one has since resigned.
For Rep. Matt Ritter, the bill will take the necessary steps toward ensuring that the debacle that took place in Hartford — which he described as one of the city’s “worst days for democracy of all time” — never happens again.
While attempting to garner support on the floor, Ritter relayed an anecdote regarding an ambulance driver who, after waiting at the polls for several hours, had to return to his shift without casting a vote.
“These things sound controversial, but we don’t have the ability to deal with problems that occur and fester in whatever town it may be,” Ritter said. “But when you think about denying the constitutional right to vote to, by my estimate, hundreds of people in the city — when people have died for that right, when people stood up here and fought for that right — how do you not respond?”
In explaining the particulars of the bill, Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, said that, should Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sign the bill into law, the registrars will now be required to have a certain amount of training and to be certified over a two-year period with eight-hour annual refresher sessions. Jutila also said that the curriculum, which would consist of 8 classes with 25 hours of classroom time, would be designed and implemented by the Secretary of the State’s office.
“Establishing key benchmarks for registrars of voters will increase accountability in our entire election system and will help both voters and local election officials,” Merrill said in a press release. “It also advances long overdue technological enhancements that will modernize and streamline election management.
The press release went on to say that, in addition to introducing new accountability measures, S.B. 1051 will expedite election results by separating them from other statistics that often take longer to collect and analyze, enabling an automation system to reduce the expense and time spent on post-election audits.
The bill, which passed the House 126-20 and the Senate 36-0, had initially called for professionalizing the registrars by requiring the local elected officials to appoint one registrar, instead of having the voting public elect one from each party.
Merrill said the bill was a good compromise and brings greater accountability to local registrars.
“The passage of 1051 gives registrars the technological tools and educational opportunities that will help strengthen and modernize our elections, while maintaining a bipartisan structure in our offices,” Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut Melissa Russell said in a press release.