From The State House: To Vote Or Not To Vote And When?

Legislators Get “Rennied” Twice For Filing Bill On “Compulsory” Universal Voting

Courant Columnist Kevin Rennie has skewered the co-sponsors of a bill that would “institute mandatory voting” to “incentivise civic engagement.”not once but twice this month.

Raising Rennie’s ire is legislation that would require voters to cast a ballot or provide a valid reason for not voting subject to a fine if a citizen does not comply. The General Administration and Elections Committee (GAE) voted 13 to 6 to hold a subject matter public hearing but has not voted to draft legislation for formal consideration.

Rennie’s acerbic takedowns of the five lawmakers supporting “vote police” are an understandable reaction to a law that would impose a penalty of any sort on registered voters for not voting. His sentiments will find lots of company among many citizens be they left, right or center as an infringement on constitutional rights. “The basic elements of American democracy elude them,” wrote Rennie of the legislators. “Voters have as much right to decline to participate in an election as they do to cast a ballot. It is one of freedom’s glories.” Rennie believes that the intent of the bill to increase participation will have the opposite effect, further decreasing turnouts that in Connecticut municipal elections in 2021 dropped to a dismal 32%. In New Britain municipal voting reached a nadir of 28% despite record high spending in the mayoral race.

An impetus for the bill that proponents refer to as “universal voting” is a book by former Secretary of the State and Common Cause leader Miles Rapoport and Washington Post Columnist E.J. Dionne: “100% Democracy: The Case For Universal Voting” published in 2022. The book and the universal voting organization is pushing the idea of ‘mandatory” voting based mainly on Australia’s 100+ year practice of compulsory voting that produces very high turnouts. Voters Down Under are liable for a fine ($20) akin to a parking ticket if they ignore filing a form excusing themselves.. It should be noted that elections there are celebratory community holidays held on Saturdays. In their book the Liberal-leaning Rapoport and Dionne say the move to Australia’s universal voting early in the 20th century stemmed from the conservative party worried that organized Labor would outpoll their party members without making it compulsory. The authors point out the practice is in place in other democracies around the world. Saying voting should be equivalent to jury duty they counter what would appear to be the strong First Amendment argument against it saying that voters need not vote for anyone but, like jury duty, citizens just have to show up and are free to leave the ballot blank. In the judicial system the failure to answer a summons for jury duty comes with a fine that has always been the rule under the principal of being judged by “a jury of your peers.”

Feeling the wrath of Rennie but signing on to give universal voting a legislative hearing anyway are Hamden State Reps Josh Elliot (D-88) and Mike D’Agostino (D-91), Middletown State Rep. Brandon Chafee (D-33), Waterbury State Rep. Geraldo Reyes, Jr., Easton State Rep Anne Hughes (D-135) and East Windsor State Senator Saud Anwar (D-3). Similar legislation has been filed in Washington state and U.S. Rep. John Larson (CT-1) has added a friendly voice for universal voting in his advocacy of the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that have been stalled in the Congress.

It’s unlikely that “compulsory” or “universal” voting will advance beyond a legislative hearing in 2023. It raises too many questions about enforcement and costs, not to mention deeply held views that citizens have both a right and a right not to vote. The GAE also has more pressing election bills to consider: early voting, no-excuse absentee voting and rank-choice voting all of which are on the docket for hearings and reports to the full General Assembly.

But by introducing the controversial idea of making voting compulsory just like jury duty, State Rep. Elliot and allies may be easing the way for what Rapoport and Dionne call “gateway reforms” that are short of required voting — early voting, vote by mail, Election Day holidays, adequate funding of election administration and safeguards against “overly aggressive” purging that has been a means of exclusion and suppression by local election officials. These are reachable steps to boost access, turnouts and restore civic engagement at a time of disengagement and restrictive voting laws coming out of the Trump-influenced Republican Party.

NB Politicus

CT Is Finally Set To Join 46 Other States With Early Voting: Public Hearing Wednesday 2/22

One of the big items for the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee in 2023 is implementing the state constitutional amendment that finally will allow early voting in the state.

On Wednesday, February 22nd the GAE will hear three bills that would provide 10 days, 14 days or 18 days to vote early ahead of this year’s November 7th local elections.

Last November “Blue” Connecticut finally got rid of an 18th century constitutional clause that made showing up at the polls mandatory with few exceptions. Now comes the decision by the legislature on how many days before E-Day will be established to vote early aside from the absentee vote option.

Based on 60 percent voter support in last November’s referendum and the backing of a Democratic majority early voting is now a lock for Connecticut to catch up with 46 other states in opening up polling places at designated locations in each community.

GAE Members will hear lots of testimony at Wednesday’s hearing to expedite passage of a bill that will extend early voting a minimum of 10 days and up to 18 days. In testimony already submitted Win Heimer, representing the CT Alliance for Retired Americans says: “Connecticut has some of the most restrictive voter laws in the nation and unlike many of its neighbors in New England, has been slow to adopt changes designed to make voting easier, particularly for working people, the
elderly and communities of color.”

While state election law needs to be amended early voting in New Britain will likely be set up in the same way Election Day Registration (EDR) is handled when eligible residents register and vote at New Britain City Hall.

Proponents, including the League of Women Voters of Connecticut and Connecticut Common Cause, are also advocating for other voter access implementers in 2023, including another constitutional amendment to go to ballots that will allow “No Excuse” absentee voting . The state currently allows absentee voting for limited reasons, an option that was extended in 2020 to all voters because of the pandemic risk. If approved a 2024 referendum will ask “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to allow each voter to vote by absentee ballot?”

How Neighboring States Vote Early

StateEarly Voting BeginsEarly Voting EndsLocations
Maine          In-person absentee voting available as soon as absentee ballots are ready (30-45 days before election)Three business days before election, unless the voter has an acceptable excuse.Municipal clerks’ offices
Massachusetts      Seventeen days before election for state biennial elections; 10 days before election for presidential or state primaries.Four days before an electionEarly voting sites, which includes the local election office. Additional locations may be provided at the discretion of the city or town registrar.  
New YorkTenth day before electionSecond day before an electionAt least one early voting location for every full increment of 50,000 registered voters in each county, but not more than seven are required.
New JerseyTen days before the election, but in-person absentee voting begins forty-five days before election.Sunday before electionEach county board of elections shall designate at least three and up to seven but not more than 10 based on the number of registered voters.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)

New Britain Charter Question Sparks Legislation To Ensure “Clarity” On Local Ballot Referendums

Local, State League of Women Voters (LWV) Back Election Law Change

Legislation to ensure specific wording on local referendum questions has been proposed by New Britain lawmakers in the 2023 Connecticut General Assembly. Proposed Bill 862 “to increase the clarity and simplicity of the language presented to voters in municipal referendum questions” will be considered by the Government Administration and Elections Committee (GAE).

The bill stems from concerns over a controversially worded New Britain charter referendum on last November’s ballot that will result in sweeping changes to local government, including the addition of a city manager (chief administrative officer) and making the offices of Tax Collector and Town and City Clerk appointed instead of being chosen by voters. Those changes and others were approved by voters who were asked an all inclusive question: “Shall the remainder of the changes to the city charter, as recommended by the charter revision commission be approved?” The vote was 5,718 Yes and 4,800 No after a well-financed Yes Committee touted by Mayor Erin Stewart campaigned for approval with citywide mailers and robocalls. The Democratic Town Committee opposed the charter changes but opponents did not form a committee for a campaign against charter revisions. The New Britain LWV disseminated a fact sheet on the charter referendum questions during its fall voter registration activities but did not take a formal position for or against the charter questions.

Leaders of the New Britain League of Women Voters (NB-LWV) reached out to legislators to consider a bill that will “clarify future charter revision ballot questions in Connecticut.” Proponents are seeking a change in election law that would make questions “specific to one subject” and contain concise explanations on the ballot that “adhere to Plain Language Law.” In addition a process in which the Secretary of the State would review local questions for “standards of clarity” may be considered in the legislation.

New Britain was apparently not alone over concerns about charter referendums. New Britain LWV Secretary Ann Speyer said ballot clarity issues also arose last year in Fairfield, East Hartford, Newington, Derby, Stamford and Hamden based on members’ research and inquiries to other League chapters. The League of Women Voters of Connecticut is also supporting the bill and is sending action alerts to chapters throughout the state to support the legislation.

A brief prepared by New Britain LWV members states “ballot questions which will make changes to a charter must be clear to the voters. The League is concerned that Connecticut voters have been asked to vote on ballot questions for charter reform which lacked transparency as to their effect.” At issue were ballot questions that “often consisted of several unrelated issues lumped together and referred to only as recommended changes of a charter revision committee. They failed to inform voters of the changes

Supporters of Proposed Bill 862 acknowledged the existing requirement of legal notification already exists but called the official explanations to voters in New Britain “outdated” last year. They cited Town and City Clerk Mark Bernacki’s classified ad in the July 19th New Britain Herald where the published charter amendments and strike throughs (deletions) appeared in a small-type, two-page spread without any “concise explanatory texts” as required in state law. Unlike other communities New Britain’s website failed to share the charter amendments in an accessible way.

In New Britain last year the city Charter Commission, which conducted numerous public hearings and fully disclosed meeting minutes in its deliberations, sent final recommendations to the Common Council in June that were accepted. However, the Commission’s suggestions to break up the recommendations into four separate ballot questions were ignored by the Council. Alderman Aram Ayalon (D-3) was the sole member of the Council to object to the final language on Question 3. The ballot question even prompted some “Yes” advocates to complain the ballot was not transparent.

In the coming weeks the GAE Committee will schedule a public hearing on the clear language referendum bill when testimony will be heard before the Committee votes to report the bill out for consideration by the General Assembly. Initial sponsors of the bill are members of the city’s legislative delegation: State Senator Rick Lopes (D-6), State Representatives Manny Sanchez (D-24), Bobby Sanchez (D-25), Peter Tercyak (D-26) and Gary Turco (D-27). At a January 21st Legislative Conversations meeting held by the LWV Senator Lopes called the legislation “a common sense bill.”

In Lieu Of Early Voting CT Has A New AB Voting Option For The 2022 Election

The land of “steady habits” Is one of only four states without early voting but fear of COVID Gives Residents Another Way To Vote Without Going To The Polls

By John McNamara

A pandemic-inspired change in CT’s Absentee Voting Law will be the closest residents will come to early voting in the November 8th mid-term election as voters decide whether to change the state Constitution to allow a real form of early voting in future elections.

In October, 33 states will open polling locations to vote early at various starting dates. Six states, including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, opened for voting in the last week of September.

The General Assembly, still concerned over the lingering effects of the pandemic, made a fix to the statute this year enabling any voter to avoid voting in person: “This includes voters who are unable to go to their polling place because of a sickness or physical disability of another person, or because of the continued presence of a sickness, such as the COVID-19 virus. That provision has been added to the customary reasons for an Absentee Ballot (AB) that include military service, absence from the town, sickness, physical disability, conflict with a religious holiday on election day and being a poll worker other than at your own voting place. The change can hardly be called a reform toward more voter access but it’s a legal loophole to allow no-excuse AB voting within the strictures of the state Constitution.

The November ballot will ask voters to amend Connecticut’s constitution to make voting possible for a period ahead of Election Day. Currently the state constitution’s 18th century prohibition on voting unless you show up at the polls leaves the Nutmeg state in the company of MIssissippi and three others without the early vote option.

A 2014 referendum to drop the early voting restriction lost. That setback for election reformers eight years ago may be attributed, in part, to a wordy, multi-faceted question that 52% of the electorate turned down: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restriction concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?”

This year the ballot question makes the issue clearer: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting? Proponents can hope that the clarity wins this time because they don’t seem worried about the outcome. The endorsements for Question 1 have been plentiful from Democratic pols and good government groups but there is very little in the way of a coordinated campaign either for or against the measure.

Connecticut is neither the hardest nor the easiest to vote, according to the 2022 Cost of Voting Index as reported in the New York Times on September 20th: In addition to many red states imposing new restrictions on voting, “politically divided states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin and deep-blue ones like Connecticut, have had limits on access to the ballot for years.” Connecticut remains nearer the bottom than the top in ease of voting despite reform efforts by successive Secretaries of the State going back to Miles Rapoport in the 1990s and including Susan Bysiewicz and Denise Merrill. Rapoport, a West Hartford resident who went on to lead Common Cause and DEMOS, is now a voice for universal, compulsory voting akin to jury duty and other gateway reforms at all levels of government as described in “100% Democracy” , his book co-authored with Journalist E.J. Dionne, Jr.

A “Yes” on Question 1 will empower the legislature to adopt early voting and vote by mail options that are already on the books almost everywhere else in the nation.

A Lamont campaign mailer as absentee ballots become available in Connecticut

Absentee applications are available at the Secretary of the State’s Election Page or in New Britain by calling the Town and City Clerk at 860-826-3349. Completed applications should be mailed to Mark H. Bernacki, Town & City Clerk, City of New Britain – Attn: Elections, 27 West Main Street – Room #109
New Britain, CT 06051.

Why Trump’s Party Rallies in New Britain

Mayor Stewart’s former campaign headquarters is one of 20 “RNC Community Centers” in the nation where “Stop The Steal” workshops are occurring

By John McNamara

Ronna McDaniel, the national Republican Party’s Chairperson and Donald Trump sycophant, made her way to New Britain this week to blast not one Democrat but all Democrats as favoring “greed, communism, and crazy. And that’s what they are for.” New Britain may be an unlikely town for the Republican Party to base its operations in blue Connecticut, but early this year Mayor Erin Stewart handed the keys to her West Main Street headquarters over to the Republican National Committee (RNC).

An RNC Center in New Britain is purportedly part of an urban strategy to help George Logan, a former state senator newly relocated to the 5th Congressional District (CD), defeat U.S. Rep Jahana Hayes (D-5) on November 8th. Large winning margins for the Democratic nominee in New Britain have kept the state’s most competitive CD blue ever since Chris Murphy toppled Nancy Johnson (R-6) in 2006. The RNC gambit here is to cut into that Democratic base with outreach to Hispanic and Black precincts in the cities. Like Hayes, Logan is an African American.

On Wednesday (September 14) McDaniel was touting Logan and U.S. Senate Nominee and Trump endorsed Leora Levy of Greenwich at the store front gathering of Republican officials that drew plenty of Connecticut media.

NB Politicus

“The Democrats do not care about our families, they do not care about our kids, they do not care because their priorities in Washington have done anything but help the American people and they do not care, but you know what? We do,” said McDaniel in shrill talking points on behalf of Republican candidates as reported by CT News Junkie.

Not to be seen at the rally, however, were Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Bob Stefanowski and Mayor Stewart, who obligingly cut the ribbon on the RNC Community Center in March but was no where near the place this week.

Stewart would have had a hard time standing next to McDaniel as McDaniel accused Democrats of not caring about our “families” and “kids”. Her administration is using the Biden Administration’s $56 million in local COVID funding as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a law that was enacted without a single Republican vote in the U.S. House. Stewart is announcing initiatives and projects with barely a mention that the money comes from the Democrats’ “Washington priorities” trashed by McDaniel, Logan and Levy on the campaign trail. Now the Inflation Reduction Act is on the way, also without a single Republican vote in Congress, with provisions on energy, climate and local aid that mayors are lining up for in a pandemic recovery.

In state politics, Stewart doesn’t really owe Republicans anything for this election cycle. They have not been kind to the multi-term mayor in a Democratic city who pundits say would have cross-over appeal in a general election. Her cancelled gubernatorial run and primary loss for Lt Governor in 2018 showed the GOP base would never support her socially moderate views and weren’t interested in her “fiscally responsible” budgets that, Democratic critics say, rely heavily on borrowing to kick current obligations down the road.

It’s also possible that Stefanowski, who purchased the Republican nomination for a second time, snubbed Stewart even to be on a short list in picking a Lt. Governor candidate this year. With the Trump effect still in play, the party has moved further to the fringe on a woman’s right to choose, guns and the right to vote. Though Stewart is as partisan a Republican as there is in governing, it is not in her interest inside New Britain to be associated with the Republican Party at least for now. Her plentiful “Democrats for Stewart” lawn signs in municipal years confirm the unwritten rule that the label Republican shall never be used.

New Britain’s RNC Center, one of 20 around the country targeting Black and Hispanic voters, does not appear to be an operations center yet for turning blue to red in New Britain aside from some anecdotal reports of door-to-door activity in the city. The office has been largely shuttered save for a grand opening in March and this week’s rally. Ominously, it has been the site for the GOP’s “election security” training held out of the public eye. A “Learn how to become a poll watcher” workshop drew the ire of Democratic Party Chair Nancy Dinardo and Common Cause CT in July, a sure sign that even in Connecticut the “Stop the Steal” movement and false claims of 2020 vote fraud are being embraced by the CT GOP to the detriment of voter access and participation in 2022.

Related Links and Credits:

New Britain Is Using Two Ballot Drop Boxes At City Hall For Now: Legislators Get Two More OK’d For Heavy Presidential Turnout

By John McNamara |

With absentee ballots expected to be mailed to voters in the coming days for the November 3rd Presidential Election, New Britain election officials are using two ballot drop boxes at New Britain City Hall. With an expected uptick in absentee voting because of COVID 19,  two more have been made available to the city by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill.

Republican Town and City Clerk Mark Bernacki told me that two drop boxes have been installed for both the August Primary and November election in accordance with the Secretary of the State’s requirements. One is outside City Hall’s main door at 27 West Main Street for “24/7 public access” and the other is outside the Clerk’s Office which is available during regular business hours.  Bernacki says the box outside his ground floor office is where walk-in voters may submit applications and ballots “in order to practice safe, social distancing in a busy lobby.” Both applications and the actual ballots may be dropped in the boxes instead of sending them by U.S. Mail.

In early September, Democratic State Representatives Rick Lopes, Peter Tercyak and Bobby Sanchez asked Secretary of the State Merrill for additional drop boxes for the City of New Britain and the request was granted. 

Democratic Registrar of Voters Lucian Pawlak and Democratic city councillors have reportedly urged Bernacki to deploy at least one more ballot drop box elsewhere in the city to expand access and make voting easier for a Presidential election where turnouts can exceed 70% compared to city and state elections where voter participation is significantly lower. Greater use of drop boxes was raised at September’s Democratic Town Committee meeting as local campaigns address the challenge of getting out the vote amid COVID 19 conditions. Firehouse and school locations have been suggested. So far Bernacki is confining use of the drop boxes to City Hall and is reluctant to set up more citing insufficient personnel and time constraints to  collect applications and ballots elsewhere.

“It would be very disappointing if the City Clerk did not use this opportunity to assist New Britain residents in accessing their right to vote,” said Rep. Lopes who is the Democratic candidate for 6th District State Senator. “It’s not asking too much to check a drop box once a day.  This pandemic has asked many sacrifices from all people. As public servants we need to accept the fact that when times are tough, we need to work harder and complain less.  I would ask that we all come together to find a way to help people vote instead of trying to find ways to not help.”

Election officials stress that all polling places will be open on November 3rd at their normal times from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The city has received federal funds to run the election to address the costs of voting amid a pandemic. “With 17 polling places, the registrar’s office is already planning on hiring more poll workers for Election Day and making sure everyone feels safe, which is the biggest challenge, The New Britain Herald’s Catherine Shen reported on September 25th. “They are also doubling up on absentee ballot counters to respond to the expected high influx of mail in ballots.”

Using ballot drop boxes as an alternative to the Post Office has become an ever more contentious issue in battleground states where voter suppression tactics by Republicans have gone into overdrive.

Last week Texas Governor Greg Abbott severely restricted the number of ballot boxes per county and a voter rights’ suit has been filed over an edict clearly designed to block voter turnout in urban and minority areas. Texas and other states also allow early voting in addition to voting by mail, an option that won’t be available to CT voters until a constitutional change occurs.

“Republicans are making it hard to vote even where drop boxes are set up and working,” according to a Washington Monthly story about the “GOP’s multi-front war on voting.” The report said: “In Ohio, for example, each county’s drop box will be located outside of that county’s board of elections buildings. That sounds innocuous enough, but consider Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati. It recently moved its board of elections site from downtown Cincinnati to the northern part of the city, making it much harder to access without a car.”




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

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

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.

Will Erin Stewart Get Another Off The Books Push From An Absentee Landlord in 2017?

By John McNamara

On the eve of  the 2015 municipal election scores of  tenants in New Britain got a notice about a possible rent increase from their landlord.

It wasn’t an official increase but a not so subtle endorsement of Mayor Erin Stewart who at the time was cruising to re-election for a second term.

The unsigned communication in English and Spanish read:

“To our residents: In order to help keep your rent from increasing we suggest that on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3rd, you vote for  Mayor Stewart and her entire Row B Team.  It’s important that we all work together to keep rents from increasing by electing responsible leaders like Mayor Erin Stewart  as she has restored New Britain to a place where people can afford to live.”

If anyone thought this message  — mailed first class by The Carabetta Companies of Meriden —- was  a civic-minded promotion of voter turnout by a major out-of-town landlord they were mistaken.  Carabetta’s  tenants were being warned in intimidating fashion: Vote for the Republican Stewart or your rent will go up.

Bilingual letter to tenants of Carabetta properties mailed on the eve of the 2015 municipal election.

The “To Our Residents” note amounted to an unreported  corporate contribution with promotion of  the Stewart re-election phone number for a ride to the polls and offer of help on getting registered to vote.  “A Team Stewart member will assist you,” said the notice not attributed to any political committee as it should have been.

State election law spells out the kind of violation that could be involved here (see below).  Moreover, penalties could potentially  apply to the Stewart committee for “coordinating” activities with their off the books landlord friends.

Sec. 9-613. (Formerly Sec. 9-333o). Business entities. (a) Contributions or expenditures for candidate or party prohibited. No business entity shall make any contributions or expenditures to, or for the benefit of, any candidate’s campaign for election to any public office or position subject to this chapter or for nomination at a primary for any such office or position, or to promote the defeat of any candidate for any such office or position. No business entity shall make any other contributions or expenditures to promote the success or defeat of any political party, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.


No doubt the tactic from one of the city’s absentee property owners was a throwback to the 2013 municipal campaign when Stewart and the Republicans teamed up with outside landlords to wage a scorched-earth, months-long campaign against Democrats pouring as much as $100,000 of dark money into the election.

At issue was a controversial  ordinance that set fees for non-owner occupied properties to pay for housing and code enforcement — a policy subsequently repealed that can be found without controversy in hundreds of communities across the country.  Ironically — aside from concerns about blight and raucous parties in rentals around CCSU — the issue that caused the vitriolic campaign in 2013 never surfaced in 2015.

Team Stewart and friends just couldn’t help themselves go low when they could have taken a pass on intimidating tenants into voting a certain way in 2015.   In the era of Citizens United and the anonymous corporate money throughout the political and legislative system it’s easier to make the calculation that any judgment on blatant violations of the law would come months later when the State Elections Enforcement Commission rendered a decision.  And any SEEC fine levied would be worth the  investment to get away with messing with tenants about how they should vote.

As Election Day 2017 approaches consider this a cautionary tale.  Team Stewart — now in an increasingly tight race for City Hall — won’t hesitate to use all manner of 11th hour mischief to stay in power like the tenant notice of two years ago.  Voters need to know that their franchise is personal and private and not subject to influence by their landlord, their boss or anyone else.

Full disclosure: I was the late starting and under-funded Democratic nominee for Mayor and the Democratic Chair in 2015 not willing to see Ms. Stewart go unchallenged. Consequently, any rent increases incurred over the last two years have come on Ms. Stewart’s watch) 



Wave Of New Voters Includes New Britain: 4,154 Added Since June; Registration Deadline Nov. 1

By John McNamara

A wave of new voter registrations statewide may push New Britain enrollment past 30,000 for Election Day on November 8th.

One week prior to the November 1st deadline,  there are 29,100 eligible to vote according to Democratic Registrar of Voters Juan Verdu’s office. In addition, unregistered voters may go to City Hall on Election Day to enroll and vote under the Same Day Registration (SDR) law that will add to the number voting in the Presidential election.

The citywide breakdown shows enrollment at 53% Democratic; 34.7% Unaffiliated; 10.8% Republican, and; 1.5 % other parties.

State Rep. Betty Boukus (22) greets children at voter registration event at Royal Pizza on Horseplain Road on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)

A Democratic Town Committee (DTC) task force reported last week that 4,154 have been added to the city’s rolls since June.  Of the newly registered 46.6% became Democrats, 45.4% registered Unaffiliated and 8% Republican. The record-setting voter surge has been fueled by reforms initiated by Secretary of the State Denise Merrill that have introduced the “motor voter” option at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and a statewide system enabling residents to register to vote online.   In New Britain several hundred new voters have been added on the ground through canvassing and outreach by the DTC task force led by Don DeFronzo, Mario Santos, Isabelita Cancel and Willie Justiniano.

Historically voter enrollment reaches its peak every four years in the presidential election and then falls off in subsequent years.  DTC Chairman Bill Shortell said the task force will continue voter registration efforts and will work with incoming Democratic Registrar of Voters Lucian Pawlak to improve the annual canvassing of voters that occurs every year between January and April to maintain the peak levels being set this year.

State Rep. Peter Tercyak (26) and State Senator Terry Gerratana (6) serve up pizza registering voters on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)
State Rep. Peter Tercyak (26) and State Senator Terry Gerratana (6) serve up pizza registering voters on October 19th. (Gerratana photo)



Registrars Move To Re-Locate Two Polling Places For Primary, November Election

By John McNamara

New Britain’s Registrars of Voters are moving to change polling places in Districts 6 and 13 in time for an August 8th Primary and the November 8th Presidential Election.right-to-vote1

Republican Peter Gostin and Democrat Juan Verdu have identified Angelico’s Cafe restaurant on East Main Street to replace the State Armory in Voting District 6 in the 25th Assembly District. Angelico’s is a stone’s throw away from the Armory location which is located at the corner of East Main and Smalley Streets.

In Voting District 13 in the 26th Assembly District the vacant  Holy Cross School (Saint John Paul II) is the proposed site for a new polling station. Registrars have contacted  the parish to use the school property at the corner of Farmington Avenue and Boulevard to replace the HRA (formerly Ben Franklin School) on Clinton Street.

In letters to Angelico’s and Holy Cross Church the registrars have proposed use of the new sites for $500 each for this year’s voting in what appears to be a temporary move

The pending relocations in two of the city’s 15 voting districts follows a March feasibility study on polling locations presented to the Common Council by the Registrars.  The study backed off from a sweeping draft plan  developed by Gostin and supported by Verdu that drew strong opposition and a City Hall protest,  especially over shutting down on-site voting at the Graham and School Apartments where older and minority voters reside. Democrats  argued that radical changes in polling places ahead of the Presidential election would impede voter access.  The feasibility study identified  the State Armory as the most costly of the polling places and cited parking issues at HRA, the city’s community action agency and Head Start center, as reasons for relocation.

The possible moves in this election cycle to Angelico’s in District 6 and Holy Cross (JPII School) for District 13 appear to be less controversial than what was proposed earlier this year. The draft plan, floated under the guise of saving the city money, raised voter suppression concerns because of the impact on locations in the center of the city. The Registrars, backing down from the original draft plan and any immediate changes, recommended “that any actions to merge, consolidate and/or move district lines and polling locations should be delayed until the 2017 election cycle” in their feasibility study. The relocations in District 6 and 13 are proposed for this year but may be extended.

Polling location changes are generally made only when district lines are re-drawn after the 10-year census that will next be implemented after 2020.