Hartford Registrars Defend Their Election Spending
By STEVEN GOODE
March 09, 2012
HARTFORD —— The city's Democratic and Republican registrars of voters on Friday defended their decision to spend more on running elections than they were alotted by the city council, saying they're obligated by the state Constitution to hold fair elections regardless of the cost.
Salvatore Bramante, the Republican registar for 18 years, had said Wednesday that the city may have to cancel the April 24 Republican presidential primary because it didn't have enough money to hold the vote. On Thursday, the office of the secretary of the state said no registrar can unilaterally cancel an election.
The city council had appropriated $120,000 to the registrars' office to cover both Tuesday's Democratic town committee election and the April 24 Republican primary. The council suggested that about $66,000 go to the town committee election and about $54,000 be reserved for the primary.
But Bramante said there wouldn't be enough money left over for his race after the town committee election.
Democratic Registrar Olga Vazquez on Friday confirmed Bramante's concerns, estimating that she spent about $98,000 for the election.
"They asked me if I could do it with $67,000 and I said, 'No, I don't think so,'" Vazquez said, adding that she hired the number of people and spent the money she felt was necessary to conduct a fair election.
Last March, the registrars had requested a $200,000 appropriation for the two races, but the council reduced the request and suggested that the registrars reduce their staffing for the elections.
Bramante and Vazquez said Friday they were assured by Mayor Pedro Segarra and the council that if they needed additional funds they would get them.
"When the mayor says 'We got you,' we take his word," Bramante said Friday.
He said his announcement about canceling the presidential primary was made to bring public awareness to the situation.
"It's affecting the integrity of the office of the registrar of voters," Bramante said.
Bramante said he plans to hire the number of people he feels is necessary to conduct the primary fairly. He and Vazquez said that they plan to ask the city council for an appropriation to cover any cost overruns.
Vazquez said Friday she has been put in an untenable situation by the city council because she is obligated by the state to maintain the integrity of an election but can't do so without what she deems are sufficient funds
"It makes me feel, as an elections administrator for the city, that I'm not being treated fairly," she said.
Both said they are concerned about a provision in the charter that allows the city to hold department heads — as Bramante and Vazquez are — personally liable for intentional overspending.
David Panagore, the city's chief operating officer, acknowledged Friday that the provision exists, but said there are other avenues to make up the overrun, including saving money in the operating budget and seeking an appropriation from the city council.
But he said that "the city is not obligated to make up the difference."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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