Connecticut Secretary of State wants to professionalize elections and revamp registrar system

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HARTFORD, Connecticut — Connecticut's system of 339 locally elected, partisan registrars running elections would be replaced with a single, professional registrar in each community under a plan unveiled Wednesday by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Her proposed legislation would require each city or town to have one registrar who meets the minimum qualifications of having a bachelor's degree or four years of experience in election administration. The registrar would be certified and required to undergo yearly training.

Merrill said Connecticut is the only state that leaves election administration to two partisan locally elected officials. Meanwhile, her office is charged with interpreting state election law under the current bifurcated system.

"The time has come to modernize and professionalize the office of Registrar of Voters in Connecticut," said Merrill, a Democrat. "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's plan, submitted to the General Assembly's Government Administration and Elections Committee for consideration, was met immediately with resistance by the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut. First organized in 1953, the group contends it has a record of supporting increased education and professionalization opportunities for registrars across the state, as well as technological advances to speed up the reporting of election results.

In a statement, the group said it is committed to maintaining fair and open elections.

"It is vital that we preserve the two-party elected registrar system in order to maintain the checks and balances and 'two sets of eyes' on every step of the election process," the group said.

In an earlier interview, ROVAC's president, Melissa Russell, voiced concern that polling problems in Hartford in November have tainted people's opinions of all registrars. She said more than 330 registrars did their jobs professionally and ethically on Election Day.

Several Hartford polling places opened late on 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.

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