OP-ED | Elections and the Ruling Class in Hartford
It goes without saying that Democrats and Republicans don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. But when it comes to grabbing power and holding on for dear life, they’re peas in a pod.
Right now it’s the Democrats who have full control of both the executive and legislative branches in Hartford. So they’re flexing their muscles, hoping to minimize the influence not only of Republicans but of minor political parties — as if minor parties needed to be further minimized.
A bill proposed by none other than Senate President Donald Williams himself is a case in point. The proposal would ban cross endorsements by third parties of major-party candidates. Indeed, the bill would prevent a party from endorsing any candidate not registered with that party. Why enact such a ban?
Well, Williams and other advocates think it’s confusing for voters to examine a ballot in which a candidate appears more than once for the same office. Evidently, Williams gives voters little credit for the minimal intelligence it takes to make sense of a such a proposition.
Moreover, Williams said he worries about “Super PACs creating sham parties out of whole cloth and spending significant amounts of money to confuse voters.” What evidence did Williams offer to support his concern? Nothing, as far as I can tell.
The General Administration and Elections Committee, which forwarded the bill to the Senate last Friday, heard no evidence of significant voter confusion or attempted abuse by outside parties. So why spend precious time on this bill?
Republicans and Democrats have a longstanding antipathy towards candidates who aren’t affiliated with either party. Of course, they want the votes of the unaffiliated, but the major parties wish that the likes of the Working Families Party and the Independent Party would simply go away and get with the program.
The arrogance of the major parties never ceases to amaze me. Their spots at the top of the ballots are all but assured each election cycle. They write the laws that make it difficult for minor parties to get started and for petitioning candidates to get on the ballot. And now the state Senate president wants to make it illegal for them to endorse major-party candidates? What on earth is he afraid of? Major party candidates themselves are free to decline any minor-party endorsement they don’t like.
Fortunately, even some Democrats are running from Williams’ bill. Rep. Matt Lesser of Middletown is one. He correctly observed that cross-party endorsements actually give voters more information about the candidates. If, for example, a Democrat has been endorsed by the Working Families Party, or conversely, a Republican has received the nod of the Libertarian Party of Connecticut, it’s less likely the candidate is a centrist. And isn’t it just as clear that a voter who casts her lot with a Democrat on the Connecticut Green Party line is trying to send a message about the direction she would like the major party to go?
Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Williams and others are proposing this bill. They want the votes of the unaffiliated, but don’t necessarily want those voters to associate them with every endorsement they receive. So banning cross-party endorsements would make things so much simpler and cleaner.
Former Secretary of the State Miles Rapoport said in testimony before the GAE that “polling shows that the people who are least likely to vote are most interested in minor parties.” Ergo, cross-endorsements can actually increase voter participation. So if Rapaport is correct, Williams’ proposal could have the perverse effect of suppressing turnout. That hardly makes sense in a state that has adopted online and election-day registration and is likely to join 32 other states in approving early voting.
Cross-party endorsements are allowed in Oregon, Vermont, Mississippi, South Carolina, New Hampshire, and New York, where minor-party endorsements are much sought-after prizes for office seekers across the state.
Make no mistake. This bill is about the consolidation of power and the elimination of an inconvenience for the ruling class in Hartford. It is, as one lawmaker said, a solution in search of a problem. The legislation passed the GAE by a margin of 10-3. It deserves an unceremonious death in the Capitol.