Others Weigh In On Election Reforms

Last week Secretary of the State Denise Merrill weighed in at her press conference on as the Courant headlines, how Reforms Could Boost Voter Participation <read> <press release>.

Merrill noted that four of the states with better voter turnout than Connecticut last month — Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Maine — all allow voters to register on election day. Beginning in Nov., 2013, Connecticut voters will be able to do so as well.

Early voting, voting by mail and no-excuse absentee voting would also boost turnout as well as reducing wait times at polling places on election day, Merrill said.

By our references Connecticut ranked 16th and 17th in voter turnout in 2008 and 2010. This year we ranked 7th – much more than respectable in gains and in absolute rank, especially considering Hurricane Sandy! In fact, Connecticut ranked ahead of many states with early voting and long lines such as Ohio and Florida, not to mention 7 of eleven states with Election Day Registration. We reiterate several themes we have discussed previously:

  • According to statistical analysis and a summary by Doug Chapin at the Secretary’s Election Performance Task Force, which she attended: Early voting, by mail or in-person tends to decrease turnout. In other states, Election Day Registration has increased turnout and mitigated the negative effects of early voting on turnout.
  • Early voting in person can increase convenience, but would be costly to implement, especailly in Connecticut with our independent 169 town voting system. Seven days of early voting would increase election day costs for such towns by close to a factor of 7.
  • Early voting in person can have high integrity, if we are willing to pay for extra security when elections are closed each day.
  • There are better solutions than early voting for long lines on election day. Our scanners can handle thousands of ballots, yet problems this year were caused by a shortage of checkin lines. Each additional line requires one extra official and perhaps a few more privacy booths – much more economical than in person early voting. And it works! Early voting is no panacea – see FL and OH – and during the last two elections storms hit during the likely early voting period, lessening its probable value.
  • Increase mail in voting increases the risk of documented fraud. Mail-in or absentee voting seems to be the source of the easiest and most frequent fraud in U.S. Elections.
  • We support Election Day Registration, but point out that the method chosen for Connecticut is not like the successful methods of other states which increased turnout, and is likely to lead to long lines.

Also weighing in was Melissa J. Russell, President of ROVAC (Registrars Of Voters Association, Connecticut),  where she “looks forward to working closely with the Board and the Committee chairs to improve the professionalization of ROVAC” Op-Ed: Registrars are continually working to improve elections system <read>

We would hope that the ROVAC President, Board, and Committee chairs will not only strive to become more professional, but also to work cooperatively with the Secretary of the State, her office, legislatures, and advocates in improving our election system.

The word “archaic” has been bandied about, along with censure of the long lines voters faced in West Hartford, Hartford and Manchester. In many of these stories, the registrars of voters across the state are taking the brunt of this criticism.

It is unfortunate that the “other side” of the story is not being told. In the vast majority of polling places in the vast majority of towns, the election went smoothly, with fast moving lines, cheerful service to the voters on the part of the poll workers, and swift reporting of results at the end of the night. Large cities such as Bridgeport, Stamford and Norwalk handled the large turnout of voters with no major problems.

Here we agree that by and large most voters, in most towns, voters were well served. Registrars deserve credit along with courteous dedicated poll workers and the Secretary of the State. We can be proud of selecting economical, paper based optical scanners for our elections, and the push from the Secretary to purchase enough ballots to avoid another Bridgeport. Perhaps the shortage of checkin lines and enough staffing for Election Day Registration will be solved to avoid repeated problems of polling place lines, and now problems similar to those experienced for Presidential balloting.

We applaud ROVAC’s endorsement of electronic checkin also championed by many beyond ROVAC. We wonder if they will endorse and lobby their municipalities to pay for it along with the associated internet connectivity required to reach its full potential. We have often heard registrars complain of tight and reduced budges, unable to cover small obviously needed supplies, such as laptops to calculate audit results, a far cry from the requirements of automated checkin.

It is also unfortunate that the “archaic” system is being blamed on the registrars and their poll workers. The Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut (ROVAC) educates registrars all over the state, both at statewide conferences held twice a year, and in county meetings held three to four times a year. Consider some of the improvements that registrars are currently using and developing in their towns: the use of Skype to communicate with various polling places in the cities, leaving phone lines open for the public; the use and development of electronic check-in books, where a voter is checked in not on a paper list of many pages, but with several clicks of a mouse on a laptop, or the scanning of a barcode next to a voter’s name; and a post-election audit system that uses high-speed scanners rather than teams of people hand inspecting and counting ballots.

ROVAC also supports the use of technology that is already available for our current tabulator system to report results: using either the ports on the back of our tabulators to send results to the secretary of the state’s office instantly, or placing the memory cards that each tabulator houses into an “ender machine” that will read the information on the card and send it electronically to the secretary of the state.

Such use of this technology, which is used in other states without problems, would speed up the reporting of the election results tremendously, while virtually eliminating the mistakes that come from bleary-eyed election workers attempting to read and accurately record numbers by hand onto a Head Moderator’s Return, which then gets faxed to the secretary of the state’s office.

Here we have a couple problems. First, opening the ports is one of the more dangerous options for our election equipment, endorsed by UConn and eliminated by the previous Secretary of the State. Moving the card to an ender machine, would still expose the card and data to security risks. And this will not do the job. Those bleary eyed workers still need to submit the additional information by hand, such as hand counted regular ballots, write-in votes, and various special ballots that cannot be scanned.

We do support auditing by appropriate independent machines, with proven processes that are combined with transparent procedures that can verify the results to the public. We are concerned that instead, we will end up replacing one black-box with another black-box system that is insufficient, and completely voids the potential value at considerable cost. We would hope that ROVAC, the Secretary of the State, CTVotersCount, and other advocates get the opportunity to work together to propose legislation, test, and implement a system that provides better audits, while finding ways to pay for the valuable provided.

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