Monday, May 16, 2016
Letter to Secretary of State, Denise Merrill
Dear Secretary Merrill,
Last month's presidential primary marked the 4th election I have moderated. It was the first election where I saw a police officer, present.
In the Moderator's Handbook section, "Who May Be Present in the Polls", Sec. B-11, it states that police officers may be present "as necessary in performance of their official duties". I'm fairly certain that in the re-certification training class earlier this year, it was even more specific; that a police officer may only be present in response to being called for a specific incident. (The exception being if the officer was present to vote in his own precinct.)
When I noticed the officer at around 7:30, I questioned him as to why he was there, and he told me hewas "hired to be there". I then called the Registrar's office and was informed that the officer's presence was requested by school officials out of concern over people freely coming in and out of the building, which is normally locked during school hours.
I fully understand school officials concerns. Being "gun free" zones, (at least the ones located at schools), our polling places are soft targets for terrorists, nut cases, etc., which is why I have advocated to certain elected officials for legislation allowing election officials who possess permits to carry pistols and revolvers to carry a concealed firearm at the polls. It is a well-documented fact that the possibility of armed citizens being present, is a deterrent to crime.
However, my interpretation of the rules regarding the presence of police officers at polling places suggest that this officer's presence was in violation of the rules. I later learned that; because of after school activities, students and faculty would be in the building until 6:00 PM.
At about 3:30, the first officer was relieved. The second office remained present in the building until the close of the poll at 8:00. And according to my interpretation, that officer's presence was also a violation.
Even if the presence of these officer at the request of school officials were not a violation of the rules, given that students and faculty had left the building at 6:00, the second officer should have left at that time, too.
I'm not faulting the officers, nor am I faulting anyone. (By the way, both officers were very nice and were invited to share the food provided by Neon Deli.) The fact remains, as I see it, the officers were not there in the performance of their official duties, (i.e. in response to an incident), they were there in the capacity of a private security guard, being paid overtime in the same manner as a police officer hanging out at a road construction site. By the same token, EMS personnel could hang out, just in case someone had a heart attack while voting.
At the very least, there seems to be a need for clarification as to what constitutes "as necessary in performance of official duties" and moderators, registrars and assistant registrars need to be given advance notice and officers need to to be instructed to report to the moderator upon entering the building.
Perhaps, even legislation or official rules need to be adopted allowing for, or requiring the presence of, police officers at polling locations.
That presents another issue, in itself. There are potentially thousands of polling locations around the state. (If I have my figures right, there are ten voting locations in Middletown, alone.) What would it cost the cities and towns to pay the cost of a police officer at every location?
It would cost a considerable amount, given the officers are paid overtime and that O.T. pay (I think) is part of the calculation for an officer's pension. At $75.00 per hour, counting O.T., benefits, and so forth, multiplied by the 12.5 hours the two officers were present, it would cost taxpayers $937.50 per poll, or, $937,500.00 per 1,000 polling locations.
It could cost taxpayers millions of dollars per election and in some years, like this one, there are multiple elections. Extend the hourly cost to the entire 14 hrs. the polls are open; add the additional hours it takes to set up and close, and the cost goes even higher.
When I started writing this letter, I did not intend to circle back to this point, but after calculating the cost, this is where it lead. While the risk of an incident occurring at any particular polling place is minimal, as moderator, I'm responsible for the safety and well being of all the election officials and voters who enter my poll. I understand and share the concerns of school officials (and being one; the concerns of parents and grandparents) and keep a vigilant eye open for any sign of trouble.
But, given the minimal risk to any one location, the cost of hiring armed guards to guard every poll is difficult to justify. On the other hand . . . there is always a chance of something going awry; somewhere, sometime.
Permit holders have undergone extensive FBI background checks. They have taken and passed rigorous training programs. They have adequately demonstrated they are responsible citizens and proficient with a firearm.
The knowledge that there may be responsible armed citizens at the polls ready to respond to a threat, may well discourage and prevent a tragic incident. It would cost taxpayers zero dollars.
I urge the Secretary to work with legislators to develop legislation allowing election officials who possess valid carry permits to quietly and discreetly conceal-carry their personal firearms, while on duty.
Very truly yours,
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