As Connecticut heads into the presidential election year of 2012, with an open U.S. Senate seat also up for grabs, the state should take a hard look at the business of politics and the rules on political office. Among changes needed are:
Voting. Voters report to one of hundreds of precincts on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, unless they have a specific reason to apply for an absentee ballot. The system worked well when more women were at home and more people walked to the polls. Should it be tweaked to fit the needs of the 21st century?
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill thinks so, and she is right. With the technology available today, there's no reason that online registration should not become the norm -- and, as soon as it can be adequately secured, online voting. A voter should be able to get an absentee ballot for any reason.
It may be possible for towns to save money by using regional voting centers. Instead of voting on Tuesdays, how about weekend voting? Voting by mail may make sense. The idea is to have a robust debate over what will work best in Connecticut.
Registrars. If voting is dragged into the 21st century, it then behooves us to ask if each and every town needs to continue spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on two registrars of voters. Would one nonpartisan registrar do the trick for a town -- or even a regional registrar?
At the very least, the legislature must eliminate a quirk in the law that has caused Hartford to have three registrars. The law says the candidates for registrar of voters who garner the highest and second-highest number of votes win the posts. But if a major-party candidate -- Democrat or Republican --- is not among the top two finishers, that candidate must also be named a registrar.
In 2008, a Working Families Party candidate outpolled the Republican registrar, meaning that both of them, along with the Democrat, are all registrars. The cost of the extra registrar approaches a quarter-million dollars, money the city can ill afford to waste. Change the law.
Redistricting. The state has just watched another dragged-out process to readjust the state's political boundaries, required after each 10-year census so that district populations are close to equal. The work is done by a committee of eight legislators, four from each party. That's better than if one party controlled the process, and the job eventually gets done.
But critics say it takes too long, which is unfair to those trying to plan campaigns, and that it's guaranteed to protect as many incumbents as possible. Human nature suggests that when all eight lawmakers on the committee are running for re-election, as is usually the case, mutual back-scratching is the order of the day. The problem was magnified this past year when House Speaker Chris Donovan was on the committee and a candidate for Congress in the 5th District as well. After criticism from a number of quarters, he left the committee before it drew the congressional district boundaries.
As a guiding principle, voters should select the candidates, not the other way around. The legislature this year should embrace a suggestion by Sen. John McKinney and study other ways to do the job.
This is the second in a series on what the state should do in 2012.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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