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Three Registrars?

ODD LAW - Could mean two too many

Hartford Courant Editorial

September 30, 2008

Community activist Urania Petit has petitioned her way onto the Hartford ballot in November as a registrar of voters candidate for the Working Families Party. The party at last count had seven registered voters in the city. But due to a quirk in state law, if Ms. Petit finishes second, the city will have to have three registrars of voters, instead of the normal two, at an additional cost of about $200,000.

This is daft. No city in Connecticut needs three registrars. We don't even see why they need two.

For ages, municipalities have elected two registrars, virtually always one Democrat and one Republican. Apparently the idea was that they would serve as a check on each other, being from different parties, even though they are supposed to serve in a nonpartisan manner "nonpartisan before 5 o'clock," as one registrar put it. The wrinkle comes when a third-party candidate enters the field.

State law says the registrar candidates with the highest and second highest number of votes win the posts. But if a major-party candidate is not among the top two, that candidate is also named a registrar. So, if Ms. Petit outpolls either Democrat Olga Iris Vazquez or Republican Salvatore Bramante, all three must be named registrars.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz said she could not recall a time when a third-party candidate was seated, but acknowledged that in Hartford "it is very possible." The overwhelming number of registered Democrats, nearly 33,000, means Ms. Vazquez is a shoo-in. The GOP registration, under 2,000, is still greater than the Working Families' seven. But the Working Families defeated five of six Republicans in last year's council elections, electing two candidates to the GOP's one, in large part by appealing to the nearly 10,000 unaffiliated voters in the city.

On the other hand, Mr. Bramante is well-known and respected, and is likely to draw a fair number of Democratic votes. Nonetheless, the city could end up with three registrars. The law needs to be changed. While we're at it, why not create one registrar per town?

The post is vitally important, because it involves access to the ballot and voting rights, but in the past was not very complicated. In many small towns, retired people serve as part-time registrars. The level of professionalism varies.

But the job has gotten more complex. There have been numerous changes in election laws in recent years, plus increasing use of technology. Would it not make sense and save money to have one highly professional, nonpartisan registrar per town?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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