COMMENTARY: After Bridgeport and Hartford fiascos, state's election process needs review
It seems so long ago that the presidential election of George W. Bush v. Al Gore hung in the balance over a few “hanging chads.” The fallout of Florida’s electoral mismanagement had national implications, resulting in sweeping reforms in many states that had never really had any difficulty with their existing processes.
In Connecticut, it signaled the end of the reliable lever machines, and ushered in the optical scan of paper ballots.
The optical scan process appears to have become a reliable alternative, and it does leave a hard paper trail when votes need to be recounted.
However, a system is only as good as the talent managing the process. And this is where Connecticut has been somewhat under-served.
Many will recall the fiasco that resulted from the incompetent management of the 2010 statewide election in the city of Bridgeport. In a close election for governor in the first match-up between Tom Foley and Dan Malloy, we had our own miniature version of the Florida mess from 2000.
Bridgeport’s registrars failed to provide enough ballots for those voting, so some people cast their votes on photocopies of ballots. Polls were kept open late in that one city due to the massive delays. Bags of ballots mysteriously turned up. It was a mess.
The result was that it took three days for the people of the state to know who their next governor would be because of the failures of one city’s registrars.
One would think that the extensive list of lessons provided that one night would be well-learned, and a repeat would be impossible. That, of course, was not so.
This year's problems in Hartford
In the 2014 election, having learned nothing, the city of Hartford managed to redefine gross incompetence in the office of the registrar of voters.
As polls opened on Election Day, the registrars had failed to provide voting lists and voter registration forms to a number of polling locations.
Many voters, fed up with waiting, left without voting. Among those inconvenienced personally were Gov. Dannel Malloy, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Attorney General George Jepsen.
A number of things come together to make this a spectacularly large threat to the integrity of our electoral process.
In many of the polling locations in Hartford that morning, individuals were allowed to cast ballots by signing an affidavit and showing an ID, presumably a driver’s license. It is important to note that this is the same ID the Democrat-led General Assembly authorized for illegal immigrants in the past session.
In essence, the failure of these registrars simultaneously disenfranchised a number of people who were turned away at the polls, while simultaneously opening the process up to fraud by those who might wish to subvert the electoral process.
Merrill, who had to fill out an affidavit herself at Hartford polls that morning, has indicated that she wants to pursue reform and will ask the legislature for some solutions. She would like technological improvements for tracking who has voted or not voted, as well as some accountability for registrars who mess up elections.
Currently, apart from facing voters themselves, there are no sanctions or possibility of removal from office unless they are convicted of a felony.
Those are good starts, but it does highlight the need to for the legislature to take a long hard look at all aspects of what we have done to our electoral system since the turn of the century.
Role of technology
The technological advancements we have chosen to implement since the 2000 election have potentially weakened, not strengthened, the integrity of our representative democracy.
The silver lining of Election Day was the rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment to the state constitution that would have essentially empowered the Connecticut General Assembly to approve all manner and method of voting, including online voting and early voting.
Such additional tinkering with our elections with such untested methods would expose us to yet further potential for fraud and abuse.
What is perfectly clear is that it is time for our state to take stock of what we have created, and perfect our institution of elections so that all votes are counted equally and accurately, before we attempt and implement numerous further reforms under the auspices of convenience and expediency.
Jason Perillo, a Republican, represents the 113th House District that includes about half of Shelton. He was first elected in 2007.