Steady Habits, Watchful Eyes: Hartford Gets State Election Monitor

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[Image courtesy of ronsaari]

Connecticut has taken several steps to respond to the 2014 election problems in Hartford – some successful (new statewide training requirements), some not (removing the Hartford registrars) – and now the state has taken steps to ensure no re-occurrence of those problems by appointing a state monitor to oversee city elections. The Republican-American has more:

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill tapped a long-time leader of the Connecticut League of Women Voters from Litchfield to serve as a state election monitor for the city of Hartford.

Merrill picked Christine Horrigan to fill the new position that the legislature created this year in response to the Election Day irregularities that occurred in Hartford in 2014. Horrigan’s role will be to ensure that the election is properly managed in compliance with the law.

“I am excited to have this opportunity to work closely with the Office of the Secretary of the State, the registrars and City Hall to ensure that elections in Hartford are well managed and that all voters have the chance to cast their ballots in a fair, timely and efficient manner,” Horrigan said.

Last November, a state judge ordered two Hartford polling places to stay open a half-hour later after the Gov. Dannel P. Malloy campaign went to court because voter registration lists were not ready as required by law.

Several polling stations in the capital city failed to open at the legally mandated time of 6 a.m. because of the distribution problems.

While the step of appointing a state monitor is an extraordinary one, there is little question that Horrigan possesses the skills and experience to do the job:

Horrigan has been an attorney in Connecticut for more than 25 years. She is a certified election moderator, and she has moderated elections in her hometown of Litchfield

Her work with the League of Women Voters includes serving nearly eight years as a volunteer election law and campaign finance specialist. She has also been the league’s director of government issues and vice president for public issues.

According to the new law, the Hartford election monitor will remain in place until January 1, 2017, unless Merrill terminates the contract before then.

The election monitor will be embedded in City Hall, but serve under the authority of the secretary of the state.

It’s good that the state was able to find someone with so much experience, because the monitor job has wide-ranging authority and responsibilities to keep city elections on track:

The statute provides the monitor with the authority to:

– Conduct inspections, inquiries and investigations relating to any duty or responsibility to be carried out by any city officials and their appointees.

– Have access to all records, data and material maintained by or available to any city officials and their appointees.

– Immediately report to the secretary of the state’s office any irregularity or impropriety in the performance of any duty or responsibility.

In practical terms, Merrill said Horrigan is expected to instruct and advise Hartford’s registrars of voters and city clerk on preparations for primary and general elections, including readying regular and absentee ballots and training election officials and poll workers.

The election monitor is expected to:

– Oversee any communications between the registrars, clerks and other relevant offices related to election administration.

– Ensure that Hartford election officials meet required deadlines for reports to be filed with the state.

– Help registrars devise and implement a management plan for the successful execution of elections in Hartford that complies with state and federal election laws.

This kind of hands-on supervision is common in other states with strong central election offices (like Delaware or Oklahoma) but it’s a huge step forward for Connecticut, where the more decntralized system of elected town and city registrars has been a regular feature of the “Land of Steady Habits” for years. It’s a good sign that the monitor is in place now, more than a year before the presidential election; I will be watching to see if Horrigan’s presence can keep Hartford’s election office out of the news in 2016 and beyond.

Stay tuned …

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