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Politics

Connecticut Launching Registrar Certification Course After Election Day Missteps

Connecticut is launching a required registrar certification system Monday following missteps at polling places last Election Day.The certification program, as called for by legislation signed into law in July, is designed to standardize registrars’ practices concerning election law, voter registration and management. Secretary of State Denise Merrill says it’s a way to get all registrars, who are elected along party lines by voters in each town, on the same page.

“There’s really been no direct way to train, particularly new people, except it’s a kind of buddy system where they’ll go to more established registrars and ask them how to do the job or perhaps the former one would teach them what the ropes were,” said Merrill. “But in many cases, there are 169 towns, and a lot of people are doing things different ways and sometimes have not have caught up with the law on some of these things particularly are record keeping.”

The course will be run through the UConn School of Business and taught by a faculty member. Registrars will be able to attend the course remotely via live video at UConn’s campuses in Stamford, Hartford, Waterbury, Groton and Torrington. Using one- to two-hour modules, the curriculum covers topics such as absentee voting, petitions and Election Day preparation. A bipartisan committee of registrars along with people from Connecticut’s Election Enforcement Commission and Secretary Merrill’s office created the curriculum. The law requires Connecticut’s towns to pay for the course, which costs about $1,600.

“I believe this to be a very worthy investment of time and resources because even though many registrars are very experienced and have been on the job for years, there are always new regulations and laws that impact their job. We sometimes find that even the most diligent registrar may not be aware of some of the changes in the law and that requires some change in the way an election is run at the local level.”

“More education is always a good thing for all of us,” said Melissa Russell, president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut.. “It’s a good thing for the public and it’s especially a good thing for elected officials. We are delighted that this is finally off the ground. It’s been a long time coming.”

Registrars must pass the final exam, which they can take five times before restarting the course, with a minimum score of 90. Each module test can be taken twice.

Merrill, a Democrat, said earlier this year that registrar problems exist across Connecticut, although issues in Hartford and Bridgeport – sites of dysfunctional working relationships and an inadequate supply of ballots — have gotten the most attention in recent years.

She originally proposed doing away with the current system and having each municipality hire one registrar. That idea was met with opposition from the registrars association and some Republican lawmakers. Merrill spoke with WAMC News in June when the compromise legislation was moving through the General Assembly.

“I still believe it should be one appointed person who is qualified,” Merrill said. “But I think once we get this required certification and training in place it will go a long way to getting me where I want to be which is having fully qualified people running the election at the local level who know the law. It was enough for me for this year. We’ll have a task force. We’ll keep looking at it and maybe at some point we’ll go back to that idea.”

Once a registrar is certified, he or she will be required to complete yearly training. Under the legislation, Merrill has the ability to remove a registrar from office for negligence.

Copyright 2015 WAMC Northeast Public Radio

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