Christine Stuart photo
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill (Christine Stuart photo)

The first-ever professional certification program for Registrars of Voters, who are in charge of Connecticut’s elections, begins on Monday.

Classes will be taught through the University of Connecticut School of Business and the state’s 339 registrars will have to be certified within the next two years.

The certification process and training for registrars was part of legislation signed into law earlier this year to strengthen Connecticut’s elections.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said there have been discussions about developing a curriculum for registrars for years, but confusion and delays at her polling place in Hartford in 2014 may have created some additional momentum.

“Every voter should have the same experience, in every town,” Merrill said.

Merrill and other Hartford voters were not able to vote immediately when they got to the Hartford Seminary because the voter check-off lists had not been delivered. There were similar delays at about 10 of Hartford’s 26 polling places.

The legislation, which creates the certification program, also allows, going forward, for the option to remove registrars in extreme cases of negligence or dereliction of duty.

But problems with how elections are being administered and how laws are being followed is more than a Hartford issue.

Michael Brandi, executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said a lot of questions come up every year related to absentee balloting and processes in general.

“What this will hopefully do is make sure the registrars have an educational forum where they’re up to date on the changes in the law,” Brandi said.

Merrill said the attempts to put together a curriculum had languished for years, but members of her office, the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, the State Elections Enforcement Commission, and the University of Connecticut were able to work together to make it a reality.

The training program is composed of eight classes that are two to four hours each. A test is given during each of the classes and registrars must pass each with a score of 80 percent. They must pass a final exam with a score of 90 percent.

The tests for each of the eight modules can be taken twice and the final exam can be taken up to five times.

“If it happened that a person just couldn’t pass the test, they would have to not run, the next time,” Merrill said Wednesday.

By not passing the tests, a registrar could be temporarily ineligible to run for the position in the next election, according to the legislation. The legislation also gives Merrill the power to permanently remove a registrar for “gross negligence.”

But the point is to get these local registrars trained rather than to punish them.

“The goal is to get people on the same page,” Merrill said.

She said there was no way before this legislation to train new registrars. She said some registrars started a “sort of buddy system” where they would team up with a registrar to learn the ropes or receive training from a former registrar.

“In many cases, there’s 169 towns and a lot of people are doing things in different ways,” Merrill said. “And some of these have not caught up with the law, particularly around record keeping.”

She said she’s not that focused on punitively removing people from office if they don’t pass the test.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get everyone through the process,” Merrill said.

Cities and towns are required under the new law to pay for the training, which costs $1,600 per registrar.

Merrill said that’s the price of democracy. She said it’s up to municipalities to pay for their local officials to receive the training.

Christine Stuart photo
Melissa Russell, president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut (Christine Stuart photo)

Melissa Russell, president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, said more training and education is a good thing for the public and for elected officials. She said she’s delighted that the first day of school is next week.