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ANALYSIS | Election 2013 Roundup: What We Learned

by Susan Bigelow | Nov 8, 2013 6:30am
(8) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Election 2013, Opinion, East Haven, New Britain, Torrington, Wethersfield

Election Day has come and gone, and the 2013 municipal elections are in the books at last. So what did we learn?

Most people still don’t tune in: What was the final turnout in Hartford, a little over 5 percent? Granted, there were only a few Board of Education seats and charter questions on the ballot, but it’s still incredibly low. Turnout statewide was only about a third of registered voters, which is typical for “off-year” elections. Shame.

Toni Harp was never in any real danger: Harp had some stumbles but won a fairly convincing 10-point victory over Justin Elicker in New Haven. For the first mayoral election without John DeStefano in 20 years, this one was surprisingly free of serious drama or uncertainty. Now we get to see what sort of mayor she’ll make. The last mayor of a big city to come from the state senate, Bill Finch of Bridgeport, may not be the best model.

Some voters aren’t thrilled with school reforms: Speaking of Bridgeport, the hold that Finch and his controversial superintendent, Paul Vallas, have on the Board of Education slipped away in what is being touted as a big blow to the kind of corporate-driven, teacher-blaming school reforms they supported. Of course, the race also had a lot to do with local Bridgeport politics, but the reforms were at the heart of the campaign.

Republicans had a slightly better night than Democrats: It’s hard to call this a win for either party, but if I had to pick a major party that did somewhat better than the other, it would have to be the Republicans. They picked up the mayor’s chair in bigger towns like New Britain, Bristol, Ansonia, and Meriden, and shockingly held on in East Haven. Despite some bitter losses in Norwalk, Norwich, and Stamford they still managed to beat expectations, and move in on what often seems like Democrats’ turf.

Local, state and national elections aren’t connected: Republicans shouldn’t see this as a sign of things to come, though — a good municipal election night doesn’t guarantee anything next year. In 2005, 2007, and 2009 Connecticut’s Republicans did pretty well in lots of towns statewide. In 2006, 2008, and even 2010 they got creamed. They lost all their congressional seats, lost the governorship, did very poorly in U.S. Senate races, and couldn’t put much of a dent in Democratic control of the legislature. The stark truth is that the Connecticut Republican Party does fine in municipal elections, but can’t translate that to success at higher levels.

Politics runs in families: New Britain’s new mayor, 26-year-old Erin Stewart, is the daughter of former mayor Timothy Stewart, who lost to outgoing mayor Tim O’Brien in 2011. She’s going to have to do a lot of hard work to convince skeptical New Britain residents that she’s not just a stand-in for her father — although the size of her win suggests that may not be an issue at all. Ryan Bingham, who was even younger than Stewart when he became Torrington’s mayor in 2005, faced similar skepticism; his mother was a popular state representative.

Also, former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s son won a town council seat in Wethersfield.

East Haven has issues: Really? They re-elected “Taco” Joe Maturo? To be fair, Maturo had shown leadership during the crisis surrounding a plane crash in his town, but come on. A guy who was a national symbol of clueless bigotry, re-elected as mayor, may not be the best signal to send.

Casinos are coming in Massachusetts: Just not to Palmer or Suffolk Downs. Voters in those places rejected casino plans, much like West Springfield did in September. One gaming plan survived a summer vote: a massive MGM casino plan in Springfield. That one’s going to happen, you can bet on it. Connecticut casinos and northern Connecticut residents are watching very closely.

Connecticut is making voting easier: Some 1,600 new voters registered at the polls in the first test of a new same-day registration law. Excellent. In Enfield, my wife used only a credit card as identification, as the law absolutely says she could do, and was cleared to vote with no hesitation by poll workers. The fact that Connecticut is making voting easier and more accessible bucks the sad, worrisome trend of tightening voter ID laws and restricting access to the polls, and that’s something that should make us proud.

So that puts a cap on 2013. Now the 2014 elections, which will feature what is sure to be a nasty, hard-fought governor’s race, get under way. Can’t wait.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(8) Comments

posted by: Jesterr72 | November 10, 2013  11:22am

Showing just a credit card lets somebody vote in CT - and that ‘should make us proud’?
Really, c’mon…how does that ensure only legitimate voters cast a ballot?...that no illegal immigrants, or people who vote multiple times are stopped?  And why is it so difficult to register ahead of time with proper ID?  It’s undermining the faith in our electoral process.

posted by: Susan Bigelow | November 10, 2013  3:49pm

Jester, voter fraud is very, very rare. A lot of studies have been done about this. It is actually far more damaging to democracy to put up barriers to voting like voter ID laws.

posted by: justsayin | November 11, 2013  11:31am

Susan you used word “barrier” incorrectly. Simply asking people to properly verify their address and citizenship in advance is not a barrier. It just helps protect our voting process.

posted by: Matt W. | November 11, 2013  5:37pm

Matt W.

The idea that voter fraud is rare is laughable. Let’s start with common sense and then move into specific examples.  I think we can agree that pols will do almost anything to acquire and retain elected office including spending millions upon millions of dollars, regularly violate campaign finance laws and downright lie (about their service in war, about not raising taxes [read my lips], keeping your insurance plan, etc.) but they don’t dare try to unfairly influence elections through voter fraud, vote buying or outright ballot stuffing?  It belies common sense.

Unfortunately what is rare is convictions for voter/election fraud which is what opponents commonly point to. Some of this can be attributed to the federal law which requires a showing of “intent” which is difficult to prove in most cases. Many other reasons including state law issues and the difficulty of tracking down “Mickey Mouse” but the primary reason is a lack of political will.

In 2004, John Kerry won Wisconsin over George W. Bush by 11,380 votes out of 2.5 million cast. After allegations of fraud surfaced, the Milwaukee police department’s Special Investigative Unit conducted a probe. Its February 2008 report found that from 4,600 to 5,300 more votes were counted in Milwaukee than the number of voters recorded as having cast ballots. Absentee ballots were cast by people living elsewhere; ineligible felons not only voted but worked at the polls; transient college students cast improper votes; and homeless voters possibly voted more than once.

Much of the problem resulted from Wisconsin’s same-day voter law, which allows anyone to show up at the polls, register and then cast a ballot. ID requirements are minimal. The report found that in 2004 a total of 1,305 “same day” voters were invalid.

That’s one small example. But Susan is correct. Studies have been done.  One such 2012 study found that over 160 counties in the US have more people registered to vote than actually live in the county.

posted by: Scott2014 | November 11, 2013  10:25pm

Susan, how many fraudulent votes is a problem? While I don’t think it is a 10% problem but there is numerous documented examples of voter fraud. Think of it this way, I someone lies, don’t you question what they say the next time?? While I don’t thing enough people vote, having a system that doesn’t accurately verify the voter only promotes disdain for the process.  There are many case were the winner only won by a few votes. I have to provide ID for everything in life from a prescription to a plane trip. And quite honestly, how many are having a problem with an ID? If so, let’s find a way to get them an ID, for free. Voting is a responsibility, if there is even one illegal vote, you are putting democracy in jeopardy. If the person I vote for loses by one vote, I’m ok with that as long as everyone was a citizen and registered to vote.

posted by: ASTANVET | November 11, 2013  10:38pm

I think we are getting to the point where the ‘democracy’ ideologues have poisoned enough wells to justify the ends - universal suffrage is not a success when Non-property tax payers can vote in property tax increases for their own benefit.  50% (+1) can vote in tax increases on the rest - that Susan, is called tyranny.  If you don’t think that the mob ...errr… majority can be tyrannical, I would point you to mid 1800’s france, or the russian revolution - You revel in the fact that you can use a credit card to register to vote… it just seems ill conceived that you would not want to protect the most basic of citizen rights.  We cannot simply go to europe and vote in their elections, nor can we go to our neighbors to the north or south and vote in theirs to our benefits.  We should not allow ineligible people vote in our elections.  To think that those who seek money and power will not use whatever means to that end is naive.

posted by: Jesterr72 | November 12, 2013  12:35pm

People are rising up against the legislators who are making it too easy to commit fraud or steal elections. I want every person legally eligible to vote - but the idea that there is no responsibility to prove you are who you say you are (like you do everywhere else) is just nuts.  People are fed up.

posted by: William Jenkins | November 15, 2013  9:51am

In New Britain, Tim Stewart did not lose to Tim O’Brien in 2011, Tim Stewart did not seek reelection.  The Republican candidate was Mark Bernacki and there were two other candidates as well.