I. In Focus This Week
Class is in session in Connecticut
Registrars begin new certification program
By M. Mindy Moretti
They may not have had new lunchboxes or backpacks. Odds are they didn’t get a new outfit and we certainly doubt their parents posted a first day of school photo of them on Facebook, but dozens of registrars in Connecticut recently headed back to the classroom.
This week marks the launch of Connecticut’s new voter registrar certification program mandated by Senate Bill 1051.
Senate Bill 1051 — introduced after a series of Election Day mishaps in 2014 — “establishes qualification standards and certification for registrars of voters in charge of local election administration, requires yearly training and also provides for the removal from office for registrars in extreme cases of negligence or dereliction of duty.”
The bill — “An Act Strengthening Connecticut’s Elections” was championed by Secretary of State Denise Merrill and was overwhelmingly approved by both chambers of the Legislature. After some amendments to address initial concerns the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut (ROVAC) also signed off on the legislation.
“I think this is going to make a real difference in the way we are able to standardize election administration in our state,” Merrill said.
Following an early summer bill signing by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a bipartisan task force spent the remainder of the summer completing the structure of the certification program and finalizing coursework.
Because the committee had been working on this for years before the legislation was introduced they were able to move quickly once the bill was signed.
“It was not a new idea,” Merrill said. “The committee has been around for years, but it had sort of languished because there was no real push for it. The registrars were really the ones that wanted to professionalize what they do, but there had been no real impetus for it because it wasn’t a requirement.”
Registrars are now required to be a certified election moderator and attend eight training classes. The registrars must pass those classes with a score of 80 percent or better and then pass a final exam with a score of 90 percent or better. Registrars have up to two years to complete the coursework.
The University of Connecticut’s School of Business has partnered with the secretary of state’s office and will oversee the program. Registrars will be able to attend classes at one of five UConn campuses.
“We are prepared to deliver these programs … using sophisticated technology that is already in place for distance learning…,” said John A. Elliot, dean of the School of Business.
In addition to conducting the classes, UConn will track all student grades and which requirements they have met.
“There is a lot of administration to this and that is something they routinely do with their distance learning program,” Merrill said.
UConn professor Karen Fassuliotis, who is also an attorney and has served as a poll worker will conduct the classes.
While online learning is all the rage these days, Merrill said that they felt the classroom experience was very important with the certification program because there is a lot to demonstrate. She also pointed out that Connecticut is a small enough state that it will not be that difficult for the registrars to reach any one of the university’s five campuses.
Most of the classes are four hours long and subject matter ranges from office management to election laws to post-election audits, just to name a few.
After their initial concerns about the legislation were addressed, the state’s registrars appear to be on board with the final law and the certification program.
“ROVAC has long been an advocate for increasing education opportunities for registrars across the state,” said Melissa Russell, President of ROVAC. “We are excited to see the certification program kick off and are looking forward to our registrars' participation.”
Merrill said that she and some of her staff have gone to sample what the classes are like and they are confident that the registrars will be able to complete the coursework.
“We’re not looking at this as a punitive thing, Merrill said. “We’re going to try very hard to help them get through.”
In addition to introducing new accountability measures, SB 1051 also quickens election results reporting by separating results from other statistics that often take longer to gather and report. The bill unifies voter registration deadlines to one week prior to Election Day, and permits local election officials to use the online voter registration system to enroll residents who are participating in Election Day Registration (EDR), which should help reduce EDR waiting times on Election Day.
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