Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra stopped short of conceding defeat in his efforts to remove the city's three elected registrars following what has been described as an incompetent display on Election Day in November.
A judge ruled yesterday that the Hartford City Council does not have the authority to remove the registrars from their positions.
"I’m disappointed with the decision, but let’s wait until we read the particulars of the opinion, consider our options and move forward with the understanding that what’s important here is that our residents votes are cast, counted and that elections are run effectively," Segarra said during an interview Wednesday.
An investigation into the November election found the three registrars – Democrat Olga Vazquez, Republican Sheila Hall and Working Families Party Official Urania Petit – to have been dysfunctional and disorganized.
City polling places weren't ready with voter registration lists when the polls opened the morning of Nov. 4, and workers had not been properly trained, causing long lines to form and would-be voters to walk out without casting their ballots.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said what happened in Hartford needs to never happen again in any city or town.
"This is a case-in-point," Merril said. "There is nothing a town or city can do, when there’s even egregious misconduct, to remove a registrar. That’s why I made the proposal to make them be appointed rather than elected."
She said appointing professional election officials with proper training would mitigate many of the issues that have cropped up in Hartford and in places like Bridgeport, New Haven and Fairfield over the years.
"I’m not saying the problems are everywhere. They're not. We just need standards. We need every voter to have the same experience everywhere," said Merrill, a Democrat.
Hartford City Councilmember Larry Deutsch said the judge's decision not to oust the three election officials did not come as a surprise.
A member of the Working Families Party, Deutsch described the effort by "dozens of attorneys" as a "colossal waste of money" and said he wants to see a professionalization of elections in the city.
"Just like we have a town or city clerk – one person does a fine job. We have one principal of a school, not necessarily five of them," he said.
Segarra said he wants to see election improvements as well. The city has less than five months to figure out how the council, the mayor and the registrars will all work together before the next election.
"I think we need to improve dialogue between the registrars office and myself, my office and the secretary of state and the different entities that are in charge of elections in a way that does not disenfranchise our voters from the right to vote," Segarra said.