Do we really need registrars of voters?

Do we really need registrars of voters?

In view of the “multiple, serious errors” that caused problems at several polling places on last Election Day, members of the Hartford City Council are seeking to remove the three registrars of voters from office. While this may be justified, it may not be enough.

A council committee last month found problems in eight areas of performance, constituting possible dereliction of duty or incompetence that caused long delays for voters at several polling places. Other people had to leave without voting, and some absentee ballots were never accounted for. The committee found that election officials failed to provide the secretary of the state with information required by law, failed to supply voter lists to the city clerk on time and failed to correct discrepancies in the vote tallies. As a result, months later, there is still no final vote count in Hartford.

Council President Shawn Wooden started the process that may result in the removal from office of Democrat Olga Vazquez; Urania Petit, of the Working Families Party; and Republican Sheila Hall. The State Elections Enforcement Commission is also investigating.

Recent news reports of a poisonous working atmosphere in the registrars’ office — particularly between Vazquez and Petit — suggest that the problem goes deeper than individual or collective negligence. It seems that no one is in charge; the co-equal registrars can’t seem to get along, but no one outranks anyone else, so no one has the final say. Hartford is unusual in Connecticut in having three registrars instead of the usual two (and at this time there is no reason to believe that any of them will go quietly) but this imbroglio also raises questions for the state as a whole.

It remains to be seen which of Hartford’s registrars may be removed, if any, but it’s easy to see that the system is badly in need of structural changes, at the very least. Having two or three equal “leaders” is asking for trouble in any organization; when the citizenry’s sacred franchise is at stake, it’s unacceptable.

But we would go further and ask: What’s so sacred about our system as it stands? Why should any partisan people be involved, in any way, with the inner workings of our elections? This seems wrong on the face of it. Why can’t this work be a duty of the city and town clerks’ offices — or other municipal employees who work for all of the people — instead of elected people who represent, first and foremost, one political party?

This would require changes to state law, of course, and probably also a reassessment of the workforce needed by the clerks. Perhaps moderators and observers from the parties could still be present, but why should partisans be in charge of the process? Doesn’t that create at least the appearance (and possibly at times also the reality) that not everything about the election process is strictly on the up-and-up?

There are plenty of jobs that need to be done, and done right, if we expect our votes to be honestly and accurately counted, but maybe this archaic scheme of using party registrars has seen its day. Our towns no longer employ hay inspectors, after all, or fence viewers or hog reeves, and maybe we no longer need partisan registrars of voters. Since the public interest is at stake, maybe this work should be done by public servants.


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