NB Politicus

Stuck in the 18th Century: State Constitution Impedes Voting By Mail, Early Voting

Posted in 2020 Election, polling, state government, state politics, Voting, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on June 11, 2020

By John McNamara

Pandemic Prompts Legislation To Allow Absentee Voting Option For All In November But Ballot Reforms Shouldn’t Stop There

Our license plates proudly proclaim Connecticut the “Constitution State” because the state constitution was one of the colonial documents that guided the Founders of the nation when they wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

While a score of other states have ballot access via vote by mail and periods of early voting before Election Day, Connecticut is stuck in another century because of its storied Constitution and a restrictive absentee voting statute.

Amid the public health threat of pandemic the absentee voting statute is expected to change at a special session of the General Assembly in July. Governor Lamont, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Democratic legislative leaders are on board to extend absentee voting to every voter this year. As Merrill said to Meriden’s “Drinking Liberally” Zoom political forum on June 9th: “The last thing we want is to have people make a choice between their health and their vote.”

Opposition can be expected from Republican Party leaders intent on restricting voter access as much as possible. CT Republican Chair J.R. Romano is hard at work parroting the discredited assertions of voter fraud.

The need to add a public health emergency option to the absentee voting law would have been moot had a 2014 constitutional amendment referendum been approved in that year’s gubernatorial election. To the question “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?” a majority (52%) voted no. Proponents blamed an underfunded “Yes” campaign and the wording of the question for its defeat. A contributing factor was the fact that almost 150,000 more voters chose a Governor but never made it to the question at the bottom of the ballot. The amendment lost by 38,000. Approval would have empowered the legislature to enact “no excuse” absentee voting and paved the way for early voting that accounts for an increasing percentage of turnout in other states.

Connecticut law limits use of absentee balloting to those who will be out of town on election day, members of the armed forces, for an illness or physical disability, religious beliefs and for serving as an election official other than at a place than where you vote. It’s likely this summer’s legislation will extend the right to vote by mail when an illness-causing public health emergency exists to stay within the bounds of the constitution.

Secretary of the State Merrill says she is working with local registrars to open all polling places on November 3rd with any required social distancing that’s needed. A statewide secure mailing operation will be used to support voting by mail for any voter who wants to do so as long as the Legislature revises the absentee voting law. Her office has a $5 million COVID 19 federal grant to meet election costs but could probably use more. According to Merrill, election officials at the local and state level face a daunting task to ensure full voter access but that steps are being taken now “to make this a smooth election.”

One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 may be to accelerate the movement to adopt post-pandemic statutory and constitutional changes allowing no excuse absentee voting and early voting in Connecticut.

In April the New Britain Democratic Town Committee (DTC) adopted a resolution to extend absentee voting to all this year and called for a new campaign to change the constitution. The DTC also endorsed the federal Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 now before Congress that would extend voter access and provide states with new funding for election security.

The nonpartisan CT-SAM Task Force, led by former Metro Hartford Alliance CEO and gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, is primarily pushing ranked-choice voting, term limits and open primaries but its platform also includes “removing obstacles to legal voter registration and….early voting, vote-at-home options, and/or by making election day a national holiday.”

Beyond this pandemic a broad-based and well supported coalition will be needed to make the permanent changes in the Constitution in a 2022 referendum. “It’s very difficult to change a constitution,” notes Secretary Merrill. “This situation has laid bare the limitations in Connecticut.” The hope is we can keep our venerable Constitution but tweak it enough to allow full voting access in the 21st century.

Turning Red To Blue: Charlotte Koskoff’s 2020 Congressional Campaign

Posted in 5th Congressional District, state politics, Voting Rights by nbpoliticus on October 5, 2019

By John McNamara

In 1996, Plainville Attorney Charlotte Koskoff was the upstart nominee for CT’s old 6th Congressional District against New Britain’s Nancy Johnson, the entrenched incumbent considered unbeatable by pundits, consultants and especially national Democratic Party bosses who put only a pittance into the Koskoff campaign.

By a razor-thin margin of 1,587 votes (C-Span at one point said Koskoff had won), Johnson survived amid her evasive handling of an ethics scandal involving House Speaker New Gingrich and the GOP’s vulnerabilities on weakening Medicare and global trade induced job losses.

Koskoff, who won handily in New Britain with her brand of progressive politics, credentials and genuineness, made two other attempts to oust Johnson before another upstart, Chris Murphy, came along in 2006 to end Johnson’s incumbency as one of the last of the “moderate” Republicans. Murphy, by the way, was Koskoff’s 20-something campaign manager in the tight ’96 race, demonstrating his ability to mobilize Democrats and Unaffiliateds across the district that won him the House prize in 2006 and the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Twenty three years later Charlotte Koskoff isn’t done with Congressional politics, not for herself, but to put progressive Democrats into Congress in districts where Democrats aren’t supposed to win or need a boost to break through.

Koskoff is the co-founder of Save Democracy 2020, an independent organization that targets races around the country where Democratic challengers are making that uphill climb. Save Democracy 2020 is not a political action committee (PAC) doling out donations for its chosen candidates. Instead it shines a light on candidates that need the help to be competitive and directs you to give directly to their campaigns and to help in other ways.  Koskoff formed the group with George Poulin, a labor leader from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) who shares Koskoff’s commitment to social and economic justice. Former State Comptroller Bill Curry, who write commentaries for Salon, The Daily Beast and other publications, is an advisor.

Fundamental to Save Democracy is  a “50-state strategy” for Democrats that says the party needs to have a presence and run in all 435 districts. You may not win everywhere but by being everywhere you broaden the base and make the right wing and GOP expend resources in their “safe” districts. Democratic candidates in red districts are “doing the heavy lifting.” They aren’t preaching to the choir but gaining converts and deserve support that pundits and inside-the-beltway, lobbyist-influenced elements of the Democratic Party ignore.

This strategy was proven right when Howard Dean became Chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2005. Dean was scorned by the likes of corporate Democrat Rahm Emanuel and Clinton’s Carville-Begala team. But in 2006 Nancy Pelosi won her first Speakership as Democrats regained the House majority.

Declares Democracy 2020: “We are The National Coalition for Democratic Congressional Challengers, a small, self-funded, grass-roots group acting on our conviction that the public policy debate and political culture in this country will not fundamentally change until Democrats and progressives have a working presence in each Congressional District After years of hearing national Democratic leaders proclaim that they were now committed to a “50 State Strategy,” but do nothing, 2018 moved the needle. In 2018, we closed the gap, and turned the House Blue, only 3 Republicans ran unopposed”

Last month Save Democracy got an early start on 2020 recommending Democrats in two special elections in North Carolina, a state prone to voter suppression and GOP gerrymandering

In North Carolina’s 9th District Democrat Dan McCready narrowly lost by 1,000 votes in a district marred by the GOP campaign’s voter fraud in the 2018 general election and with district lines stacked against him.

For 2020  Save Democracy plans to choose ten candidates to promote among non-targeted Democratic Congressional challengers and campaigns. “In choosing our races we consider personal strengths of the candidates and the vibrancy of their campaigns, says Koskoff. “We are especially drawn to strong challengers from rural and agricultural districts. Family farmers and their communities have been struggling for years, and right now their crises are acute. Our strong, rural Congressional challengers tell their stories with credibility and eloquence. If elected, they could be catalysts and leaders for meaningful change in national farm policy. And they could win. Their districts used to be full of Democratic voters. It’s time to bring them back. We also look at the power, far-right activity, and rhetoric of the Republican incumbent/challenger. With regard to some of them, it’s a moral imperative, as well as a tactical one, to mount strong electoral challenges.”

In 1996 Charlotte Koskoff was a candidate with “personal strengths” and a “vibrant” campaign that came up short because she wasn’t one of the “targeted” races when a modest boost from her party’s Congressional campaign committee and the DNC would have toppled the “unbeatable” Johnson.  Groups like Save Democracy had they been around then could have been the margin of victory. Koskoff remembers. Through her grassroots, national organization, she and her associates will help 2020 challengers as they push the Democratic Party to leave no district behind in turning red to blue.

Off Year For State Pols Is All of A Sudden On in New Britain

Posted in reapportionment, state politics by nbpoliticus on December 29, 2010

The odd number years are off years for state politicians as new legislative terms begin and – in 2011-  a new Governor takes office.

That will not be the case in New Britain in the early weeks of 2011 as the new Governor has summoned the state senator for a commissionership and the Legislature has selected the 25th State Rep for Democratic State Auditor.

A short time after March 1 the familiar names of DeFronzo and Geragosian will be gone from the New Britain state House delegation. State Rep. Tim O’Brien (D-24) will be the senior member and incoming Human Services Chair  Rep. Peter Tercyak (D-26) the only veteran of past legislatures left. State Rep. Betty Boukus (D-22), who represents a sliver of the city in District 15, will also remain to represent New Britain voters.  While it may seem longer for the current crop of NB legislators, these kinds of State House changes occurred here just eight years ago when incumbents stepped down and DeFronzo defeated Tom Bozek for the Senate seat.

What is different now is the new system of public financing.  Given a six-week election cycle the special elections here and elsewhere will again test the citizens’ election program. Participating candidates will need to meet 75% of the donor and dollar requirements of a normal election cycle.  The candidates will need to be very good and very fast at securing the small dollar contributions to do the public financing.

On top of new faces in the Legislature the coming reapportionment will most certainly alter the borders for Legislative and local voting districts by 2012.  New Britain voters will be seeing a lot of changes in who represents them and where they live on the political map.

Related stories from Herald and CT Mirror

 http://www.newbritainherald.com/articles/2010/12/29/news/doc4d1aad3a6706c379794614.txt

http://www.ctmirror.com/story/8829/geragosian-ward-named-new-state-auditors

CT Capital Report polling: Science of push button survey has skeptics

Posted in polling, state politics by nbpoliticus on October 9, 2010

No question political junkies can’t get enough of polls in the run up to elections. In 2010, Connecticut is seeing an extraordinary amount of polling because of the high stakes U.S. Senate race and an open seat for Governor.

In addition to the well-established Quinnipiac Poll, national outfits such as Rasmussen are measuring voter sentiment in the Nutmeg state in a big way.  These have more than made up for the loss of the Courant/UCONN poll that was Connecticut’s authoritative opinion survey for a long time.

Last week  the news and opinion aggregation site, CT Capitol Report, entered the handicapping for this year’s “horse races” and immediately gave pundits more material to analyze and write about. We can all take heart that the polling is home grown from www.merrimanriver.com.  But do we need more info on the horse races or journalistic attention focused on issues and how candidates are responding to them?

I was among the CT residents phoned by the CT Capitol’s survey that called about the Governor’s race, which the poll ultimately found to be a “dead heat.”  This was a push-button poll wherein a recorded voice asked me a series of questions on my choice for governor and got the vitals on my political identity.  As I dutifully gave the answers of a liberal Democrat I wondered about the efficacy of a survey that did not involve a back and forth with another human being, just required whoever answered the phone to punch in answers if there was enough patience to stay on the line for five minutes or so.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza discusses the pros and cons of the CT Capitol Report survey methodology in this recent story from the Washington Post’s “The Fix”.

Cillizza suggests voters take CT Capitol Report’s and other automated polls with a grain of salt:

In a standard telephone poll, the interviewer may seek to add another layer of randomness by asking to speak for a specific person in a household, such as whoever most recently celebrated a birthday. Automated polls do not attempt to do that. Establishment pollsters argue that by stripping a level of randomness from the polling process, auto-dial pollsters must more heavily weight their samples to achieve demographic diversity — rendering the results almost meaningless.

The CT Capitol Report polling also told us that the 5th Congressional District is the most anti-Obama and trending Republican of any of CT’s five districts. Too bad towns like New Britain and Meriden will skew these results.


It’s kind of ironic that in the age of dying newspapers and diminished journalism voters–the online ones anyway — may be getting Too Much Information (TMI) that focuses less on the issues and how candidates will address them.


Sources:


 http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/parsing-the-polls/parsing-the-polls-of-auto-dial.html

http://www.ctcapitolreport.com/