Compromise bill to professionalize Connecticut elections clears legislative committee

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — A newly crafted compromise aimed at professionalizing Connecticut's election system after a spate of polling mishaps cleared a legislative hurdle Monday.

While the revamped bill would still retain the current system of 339 locally elected, partisan registrars of voters, it now requires a new certification program for registrars and a process for investigating and possibly removing those who behave negligently.

The proposed legislation also enables the Secretary of the State to temporarily remove a registrar for failing to obtain the newly required certification.

"I have said from the beginning that we need more professionalism and accountability in how we run elections in Connecticut, and this bill accomplishes that," said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

The bill passed the Government Administration and Elections Committee on a 13-2 vote and now awaits action in the Senate.

Crafted with input from Merrill's office and the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, the legislation stems from problems in recent elections, including last November's gubernatorial election. Several Hartford polling places opened late Nov. 4, prompting a judge to order extended voting hours and President Barack Obama to call WNPR-FM, urging people to return to the polls later in the day.

"I think this is a real attempt to address many of those issues," said Sen. Steve Casano, D-Manchester.

Merrill originally proposed legislation that would have replaced the locally elected registrars with a single, professional registrar in each community. She said Connecticut is the only state that leaves election administration to two partisan, locally elected officials. Her office is charged with interpreting state election law under the current bifurcated system.

But the registrars association argued it was vital to preserve the two-party elected registrar system to maintain checks and balances for Connecticut's elections.

Melissa Russell, president of the registrars association, praised lawmakers for "finding common ground in addressing issues vital to the integrity of our democratic process." She said the legislation will help modernize Connecticut's elections.

The bill creates a system where complaints about registrars are filed with the state's attorneys, who would then investigate claims of wrongdoing and negligence before deciding whether to file an action in court recommending the registrar's removal. A hearing would be held on the recommendation.

The bill also attempts to quicken reporting on election results and streamline voter registration procedures. Additionally, the legislation requires registrars to undergo yearly professional development and training.

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