A state law that allows registrars to impose a loyalty test on voters should be stripped out of the statute book, Secretary of State Denise Merrill said.
“I really don’t think it’s appropriate,” said the second-term Democratic overseer of state elections.
Merrill said the recent decision by Brookfield’s Republican registrar to remove Jane Miller from GOP rolls for running on the Democratic ticket for a Board of Education seat highlighted the need for reform. She said elections officials should be non-partisan rather than enforcers of party discipline.
An obscure state law, apparently in place for more than a century, allows a registrar to consult with the political party chairman in the town to determine if someone has been disloyal. If they both agree, the registrar can throw them off the party’s rolls.
Peggy Reeves, assistant to the Secretary of the State for Elections, said that Miller is not the first person to lose her party affiliation under the law. She said there have been a number of cases over the decades.
As a former registrar herself, Reeves said, she doesn’t think the practice should be allowed.
“Who am I to assess someone’s allegiance to a party?” Reeves asked.
Merrill said that kind of power “should not be in the hands of a local party official” and an elected registrar who’s supposed to ensure the sanctity of the voting process.
Merrill said she plans to ask lawmakers to repeal the loyalty test provision to make sure that voters can choose the party they prefer.
Miller, a former Brookfield school board member, last week sued the town’s Republican registrar and three party leaders in federal court.
Brookfield Republican Registrar Thomas Dunkerton removed Miller from the GOP’s rank-and-file list last spring after talking with the party’s town chairman, Matthew Grimes.
By changing Miller’s party choice from Republican to unaffiliated, Dunkerton stripped her right to vote in the April 26 GOP presidential primary as well as any local Republican primaries that might occur.
The federal lawsuit against the four Brookfield Republicans seeks damages of $1 million or more for violating Miller’s constitutional rights and causes her “pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of dignity, loss of reputation and damage” to her business.
Former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, who is an attorney, is representing Miller in court.