I want to start off this posting with a short disclaimer, these are my opinions and do not necessarily express the opinions of the 7th District Hartford Democratic Town Committee or the Hartford Democratic Town Committee overall. I say that to make it clear since I am also a member of the Democratic Town Committee. These opinions will not be news to anyone on the HDTC since I have already expressed them openly and publicly.
With that being said, the race for Registrar of Voters is a mess. At least three candidates have more baggage than an Amtrak station. At least one other newcomer has arrived on the scene and actually seems to be gaining some momentum.
The Registrar of Voters position is one that is mandated by State of Connecticut statutes. It is also probably the last position left for true political patronage. There are no requirements such as level of education, no background checks and really no day to day supervision of their operations. The Secretary of the State supervises their required filings and election results, but other than that the Registrars answer to no one, except in theory the voters.
Even though the Registrars are technically Department heads for the City, neither the Mayor nor the Council have any administrative control over their operations, with the exception of approving their budget. Complaints against the Registrar of Voters operations usually seem to land in the hands of the State Elections Enforcement Commission for review and action.The Mayor can not hire, fire or discipline them as he can any other Department head serving at the pleasure of the Mayor.
This year the Registrar of Voters Office has been highlighted in mismanagement as they exceeded their budget and had gone back to the Council and Mayor asking for almost a quarter of a million dollars in additional funding since they over spent their budget. The reason for that might have been quite obvious to those who attended recent interviews for Registrar of Voters held at the Annie Fisher School. All four candidates were asked the annual budget for the ROV office and not of them knew, including the current Democratic Registrar.
As a department head, it seems incomprehensible that the current Registrar would not know her annual budget as well as a pretty accurate number as to what has been spent and what remains to be spent . I'm also unable to give a free pass to the three challengers as I think that if you are really concerned about running for the office, it is incumbent upon you to know as much as possible about the operations, including an approximate budget number and staffing positions. That is all public information and readily available.
I had mentioned the three "baggage handlers" as well as the new comer. Just for clarification, the newcomer is Charmaine Waul. The other three are current Registrar of Voters Olga Vazquez, Kelley Kirkley-Bey and Ramon Arroyo.The major drawback to Waul is her lack of experience in politics in Hartford. When you look how political the Registrar's Office is when it is actually supposed to be non partisan, that might actually be a benefit rather than a drawback.
At this point, from everything I have been able to find, Waul may be the only one in the race able to enter the Registrar's Office with what they call " clean hands". No Elections Enforcement complaints or lawsuits against her and no solid ties to anyone politically that might try to "own" her, no criminal arrests for prostitution charges or drug arrests no claims of "losing" or altering election documents to favor one slate over another, no appeals or court cases pending questioning her integrity.
Rumors were swirling that since the 4th District Democratic Town Committee was the first district to interview her, then she must be put up by the DiBella's as their candidate. Several districts were uncomfortable with that and the rumor continued to swirl that last week Hartford Democratic Town Chair Marc DiBella actually sent out an e-mail claiming that there were no ties and he only just met her at the request of one of his members.
The interesting part is that no one seems to have the required 51% of the overall Town Committee votes to prevail in the nomination. That might change though between now and the HDTC Convention for the Registrar of Voters nominations. It seems as though it is imperative that members of the HDTC ask some tough questions between now and that convention. The Registrar's Office should be beyond reproach and in this case integrity really does matter.
When it comes to voter's rights and the need for elections to remain 100% above any question or suspicion, the choice for the next person to fill that office should not be made based upon political favors or allegiances when those decisions are potentially rewarding past criminal behavior, malfeasance and incompetence.
Hartford has a unique situation where we are the only municipality in the State to have a third Registrar. Urania Petit and the Working Families Party were able to research Connecticut Laws and found in 2007 that they could run a candidate for the position and the only statutory requirement was that she get one more ballot cast for her than the votes of the low vote getting major party also running. That would be the Republican Registrar, and WFP did it and Petit was added to the Office of the Registrar of Voters.
The Republican Registrar of Voters position is also up fro grabs this year and Hartford resident Nyesha McCauley has announced her intention to run as a challenger for that position. Word for months has been that Republican Registrar Sal Bramante is considering retiring, but was possibly going to do that after the election so he could name his successor. This might be the time for Republicans to come together, show some leadership, avoid the cost of a primary battle and let some new ideas from McCauley rebuild the Republican side of the Registrar's Office. More on this scenario in another posting soon
Word has also been for years that the Registrar of Voters Office was prime real estate because of the salaries. There aren't too many positions that pay $85,000 for political hacks, I mean elected officials, with little or no education required above high school, and I don't even think that is a requirement. That might be changing now though as I am being told by sources that the annual salary may actually be reduced through budget cuts to something closer to $55,000 a year and the position of the Deputy Registrar may actually be no salary or reduced to a part time position.
State law requires a Deputy registrar position for each party but no salary is mandated. The Deputy Registrar is only in place to serve as the replacement for the Registrar if they need to be replaced through death, retirement or some other removal.
It would be nice to see the Registrar's Office actually run as a professional operation and see the taxpayers get their money's worth out of this office. That includes greater voter involvement and participation, more voter education and empowerment and a real level of "customer service" for those using the office.
In this case , integrity really does matter and those endorsing the candidates need to do what they were elected to do and endorse the best possible candidates, not the candidates best at cutting dirty deals and overlooking their past.
And like I stated in the beginning, none of this information comes from any "inside" information from the Town Committee. This is all public information for anyone to find on their own whether it is the SEEC website, Judicial records or other means.
And by the way, the question that even the current Democratic Registrar of Voters couldn't answer, the annual budget for the ROV office is roughly $760,000 , unless of course when they overspend by almost a quarter of a million dollars like the Republican and Democratic Registrar's did this year.