District borders in need of oversight

February 15, 2019

First, it was a mix-up in Stratford, where 75 voters were given the wrong ballots last Election Day and were unable to make their choice in the 120th District. Considering the winner there was decided by 13 votes, it was a serious problem, even if the House Democratic leadership doesn’t seem inclined to support a revote.

Then came news last week that a Hearst Connecticut Media review found some Hamden voters were likely issued the wrong ballots in each of the last four statewide elections. Because of an error in the Hamden registrar of voters streets list, a number of voters in the 17th Senate District were instead casting ballots in the 11th.

The 17th District, coincidentally, also had an exceedingly close election last fall.

These instances followed a report last year that the same thing had happened in Derby. In that city, the elected representative, Kara Rochelle, turned out to be running in a district she did not live in.

All this amounts to a few isolated incidents of election problems. There’s no evidence of malfeasance, and certainly nothing to get people to yell about “election fraud,” which usually refers to in-person lying about one’s identity, and is so rare as to be inconsequential.

Still, bad intentions or not, this is a problem that needs solving. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is taking action, submitting legislation to audit the election records of all Connecticut towns. This will help ensure voters are casting ballots in the correct district, which sounds like it should be easy but in fact presents plenty of complications.

Legislative districts don’t always — or often — line up perfectly with town lines. Some cities have a half-dozen House districts along with a handful of Senate seats. Derby, the state’s smallest city, has three House districts within its borders. It’s not unheard of to see people living across the street from each other fall into different districts.

The lines also change every 10 years, after redistricting.

Merrill’s bill, which has yet to be submitted, would propose hiring independent auditors to review how every town implements the state’s redistricting lines. “They’re implemented at the local level, but no one ever goes back to make sure they are properly implemented,” Merrill said.

It’s no wonder these problems happen, and is surprising it doesn’t happen more often. And regardless of what the state does, each city and town should take the time to go over its voting lines now, long before there’s another election scheduled, and get any problems straightened out.

To date, the mistakes that have been uncovered have not been blamed for major changes, like the shifting of power from one party to the other in the House or Senate. But Stratford and its 13-vote-margin Senate race is a good example that every vote counts. The state and its communities need to ensure these problems are not repeated.