Trading ballots for kayaks, registrar retires
In her 10 years as Wilton’s Democratic registrar of voters, Carole Young-Kleinfeld saw many changes. Changes that made her job more challenging, more interesting, and more rewarding.
Young-Kleinfeld’s last day was April 6 and she spoke with The Bulletin last week about her time in Wilton’s public service.
“I was always interested in politics and how it worked,” she said, explaining how she went from being a therapist, health administrator, stay-at-home mother and freelance writer to the part-time job she found “so rewarding and fun in a lot of ways.”
It began with the Wilton League of Women Voters and Route 7. Shortly after moving here she went to a meeting about the road and decided to get involved. It was through the league she met former registrar Peggy Reeves, which led to her helping out with voter registration and helping Boy Scouts working on their citizenship merit badges.
Eventually she became Reeves’ deputy, and when Reeves ran for state representative in 2008, Young-Kleinfeld was on the ballot to become the Democratic registrar.
“I have had so many different jobs since I was 16,” she said. “This is one job where I felt lucky enough to waken Monday mornings and go into work.”
When asked about changes in her job over the years, Young-Kleinfeld said they fell into three main categories: technology, legislation, and professionalism.
“When I started as registrar, we were still using lever machines,” she said. While many people liked the machines — the reassuring clicks and the privacy of the curtain — registrars did not feel the same. “Parts would pop off,” she said. Sometimes the teeth on the tumblers broke and when the registrars opened the back at the end of voting there was no paper record.
Plus, they were bulky and hard to store and set up.
After the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that directed states to improve voting methods, Wilton became one of Connecticut’s pilot towns to test optical scanners as a replacement for lever machines. With their paper trail, the scanners allow for recounts and audits. She described the state’s move to this system as “very wise.”
- Each state must have centralized electronic voter registration.
- Reporting of election results is sped up by electronically sending them to the secretary of the state with a backup hard copy.
- Online voter registration.
- Election day registration.
- Curbside voting for people with temporary disabilities.
- Automatic absentee ballots for people with permanent disabilities.
- Every town must report how many ballots are ordered based on history and “buzz.”
All of these changes translated into a “big learning curve,” Young-Kleinfeld said, but they are all to the good.
While technology brought positive changes, it also brought potential problems. “Hacking is a concern,” she said, so voting machines should not be connected to the Internet.
“Election day registration is great,” she said. “It’s a safety net for those who have forgotten to register or may be removed from the voter rolls.”
Young-Kleinfeld recalled the first year it was available in 2013, Wilton had no contested races but six people still came to town hall to register on election day.
Young-Kleinfeld has been one of four people serving on a statewide task force to develop a certification program for registrars. They have developed an eight-class program with UConn that registrars must complete within two years of taking office. It covers topics such as federal laws, absentee voting, petitioning and ballot races for minor parties. Continuing education credits are required after certification.
Although she is a Democrat and her counterpart — first Tina Gardner and then Annalisa Stravato — is Republican,Young-Kleinfeld emphasizes the registrars’ office should be run in a non-partisan way. Her background with the nonpartisan League of Women Voters has been helpful in that regard.
“It’s a very helpful mindset to bring into the office,” she said.
Despite dotting all their i’s and crossing all their t’s, there are still things registrars can’t foresee.
“Every town has to have emergency election plans in case of floods or other disasters,” Young-Kleinfeld said. “Tina and I developed one with the fire and police departments,” she said, adding all the moderators know what to do.
Wilton was one of the first towns in the state to use their plan when she got a call from one of their moderators that they had to evacuate when the school fire alarm went off.
“They had to gather all the ballots and machines and roll them into the parking lot,” she said. “All the people had to leave as well.”
The emergency was a burnt bag of popcorn someone had been cooking in a microwave. Eventually, everyone and everything was allowed back in and voting proceeded.
There are a few misperceptions about voting Young-Kleinfeld pointed out and most have to do with young voters.
Young adults, particularly those just graduated from college, who have permanently moved from their Wilton home may not vote here, even if their families still live here. Citizens may only vote in their home district.
College students must request absentee ballots themselves. Their parents may not pick them up or cast them for their children.
There is no voting by proxy.
In a few cases moderators have had to ask people to cover slogans or candidate names on their clothes that is considered electioneering.
Although she won’t be handling Wilton’s elections, Young-Kleinfeld expects to stay involved through the League of Women Voters. She may join the state league in a study on redistricting and she is wondering if the league will study Maine’s move to ranked-choice voting.
As for free time, “I like the idea I can go kayaking whenever I feel like it,” she said. But mostly, her plan is “to not make definite plans.” She said she and her husband Neil hope to visit more national parks “and not be constrained by the election calendar.”