By CHRIS POWELL
Maybe last year's presidential election wasn't stolen, but it raised fair questions about the integrity of voting procedures, and this may have given Connecticut Democrats hints about making election fraud easier here.
The Democratic scheme is included in legislation proposed by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and being hustled through the General Assembly without much critical examination. The bill would make voter enrollment information secret, particularly the birthdates of voters, and would enable voters to require that their entire voting enrollment data be kept secret in the name of personal safety.
But without public access to voter birthdates there is no way for the public, including journalists, to verify voting fraud or uncover duplicate voter registrations, either within Connecticut or with people registered to vote in Connecticut and other states. Since many names are identical or similar, a birth date is crucial for distinguishing people. Further, the voter rolls are not updated as often as they should be, so on Election Day the rolls include many people who have moved or died.
Under the legislation, voter enrollment data would remain available to the secretary of the state, but she and other officials seldom go looking for voter fraud without first getting a complaint from a member of the public who is suspicious about something.
Making the voter enrollment database secret meshes with the Democratic Party's desire to switch most voting from in person to mail, which will put intermediaries between voters and the casting of their ballots. Thus ballot and voter eligibility verification will become even more difficult.
There is little evidence that the longstanding procedures for voting in Connecticut are suppressing participation. But such concerns could be easily addressed by authorizing a week of early voting, provided it was conducted in person, without intermediaries. Secrecy for voter enrollment records will invite corruption and fraud.
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Governor Lamont is expected to sign legislation just passed by the General Assembly to erase hundreds of thousands of criminal convictions that are seven to 10 years old and considered relatively minor. The legislation's mistaken premise is that many former offenders are prevented from getting jobs and housing because of the public record of their convictions – not because they lack education and work skills.
Criminal records are a strange concern about justice when there are tens of thousands of job openings in the state and government is paying people not to work by increasing unemployment compensation above ordinary wage rates. This is a doubly strange concern about justice when Connecticut keeps seeing serious crimes committed by people with long criminal records.
Another such case was publicized last month when, working with a DNA database, police in Avon charged a 73-year-old man now imprisoned in Massachusetts with a kidnapping and rape in Connecticut 37 years ago. While the defendant has been in prison lately, Avon police said he incurred 30 convictions before he got there, including convictions for ... yes, another kidnapping and rape.
Connecticut's persistent offender law allows prosecutors to seek and judges to impose longer sentences for certain chronic criminals. But the law leaves everything to the discretion of prosecutors and judges and is seldom invoked. So the revolving doors between police, courts, prison, parole, new crimes, and prison never stop rotating.
This situation calls for two solutions.
First, a tougher persistent offender law removing discretion from prosecutors and courts and requiring life sentences to be imposed upon, say, a third, fifth, or even 10th serious conviction. Incorrigibility is not so hard to spot.
And second, enhanced supervision of parolees so they are required to perform at least a year of employment with state government or under close government supervision, during which they would be provided basic housing and medical insurance and get on-the-job training and some ability to support themselves honestly.
Of course, these solutions would cost some money, but they might protect many lives and reform many others and thus do more good than what the General Assembly is contemplating – another expensive patronage infrastructure boondoggle for hapless Hartford.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester,