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Less Hartford Voters in 2012, But More Chaos? Why?

By Ken Krayeske

November 15, 2012

State Representative-elect Edwin Vargas was not happy with the electoral process in Hartford last week.

The long lines, the poor communication, the funneling of all problems to City Hall - detailed in this column and other places - were unacceptable, Vargas said.

“Voting is sacred,” Vargas said. “I find it disgusting. The buck has to stop at the registrar’s office. They were unprepared. It is an issue that has to be addressed before next time. Excuses are unacceptable. ”

The official numbers are in, and despite the hours long line in City Hall in 2012, less people voted in 2012 than in 2008. It seems hard to believe, but the Secretary of the State’s website shows 560 more people voted in 2008.

2012 Total votes for president in Hartford: 34,037

2008 Total votes for president in Hartford: 34,597

Last week, Urania Petit, the Working Families Party registrar of voters, told me that the registrar’s office prepares for an election based on the numbers of the last election. Theoretically, no problems, then, right?

Wrong. In 2012, less people voted, but there was more chaos. Petit will no doubt say that we need more voter education, and last week, she was reluctant to blame the Registrar’s office or the City Clerk (who runs the presidential end of things).

She also said there were lots of problems with unregistered voters, who only wanted to vote for president. The problem with her argument there is that only 900 or so more people voted for president than U.S. Senator.

Between all U.S. Senate candidates last week, Hartford tallied 33,123 votes. Not all 900 of those extra votes for President came from same-day registrations, which is what the line in City Hall allegedly was.

How could things have gone so much more smoothly in 2008 than they did in 2012? Could it be that Shirley Surgeon, who now works in the Governor’s office, knew how to run the 2008 election?

At first, the blame for the huge lines in City Hall on Election Day landed on the Democratic Party registrar, whose lack of competence is known far and wide. I was ready to call for Olga Vasquez’s resignation. I still am.

But this week, I won’t blame individuals. We all wear this failure. Let’s explore our system-wide failures.

Why is it that New Haven, which only has 5,000 more people than Hartford, could have 10,000 more people vote in the presidential election. Both in 2008 and 2012.

Hartford has 124,775 people. The Hartford Registrar of Voters website claimed 65,668 registered voters as of March 2011. New Haven has about 129,779 people, and 71,978 registered voters as of today. But compare:

2012 Total votes for president in New Haven: 44,643

2008 Total votes for president in New Haven: 44,569

New Haven did not have huge lines in City Hall for same day registration, as far as I know, and more people voted in 2012 than 2008. The question of same day registration? Almost 2,000 more people voted for President than U.S. Senator (a total 42,596 votes for Murphy, McMahon, et al).

Turnout percentages? Hartford saw about a 51.8 percent of registered voters participate in 2012, and about 27 percent of all people go to the polls. New Haven saw 62 percent of registered voters vote this year, and 34 percent of all New Haveners went to the polls.

Traditionally more voters turn out for mayoral elections in New Haven. For example, in 2011, Hartford had 6,980 people vote for Pedro Segarra and his challengers. This is about a 10 percent turnout.

In 2011 in New Haven, 15,462 people voted for Mayor DeStefano and his challengers. This is more like a 25 percent turnout. What explains the difference?

The existence of Yale alone in New Haven? Maybe 2,000 more voters. Not all 10,000. Not every election.

How could civic health in New Haven, which is a one-party town (with two registrars, Republican and Democrat), be so much better than Hartford, which is a one-party town (with three registrars)? Either way, I think both percentages are paltry compared to some suburban towns. So poverty is an issue.

The number of registrars could explain Hartford’s lack of preparedness, since the Democratic Party seems more interested in attacking Petit than running elections. (Disclaimer: I have represented Urania pro-bono in a complaint filed against her with the State Elections Enforcement Commission by a local Democrat. The SEEC found no cause, and ruled in Urania’s favor.)

Is it that New Haven politicians run better campaigns? Campaigns are built on the science of turning out voters, so why can’t registrars, who are politicians, work with the same efficacy as campaigns? Is it money?

How come campaigns can track every voter they know will turn out, but the Registrar’s office is just guessing at turnout from four years ago? Campaigns do things – bring people out to the polls – that voting officials (not just in Hartford, but in Ohio and Florida, too) are unable or unwilling to deal with.

Campaigns ask the government to accept more human input. This is how change happens – politicians move armies of people to bring new ideas into the arena.

Witness how the voters of Colorado and Washington state upended the international war on drugs by voting to legalize marijuana for recreational use. (More on this soon.) But the point is voters led, leaders will now follow.

Urania’s election four years ago was thought to be such a game changer for Hartford. The Working Families Party found a loophole in state law allowing for a third party registrar. The Republican Party has a registrar by default, through state statute. I don’t think they need one in Hartford.

Perhaps a mandate that requires the registrars’ offices to prepare elections for 100 percent of registered voters. And maybe the Australian model of mandatory voting for all citizens of voting age?

It would help the down ticket. Olga and Urania and Sal Bramante in total received 26,897 votes. Olga cannot think that with the 22,795 votes she won she is queen bee. She knows Hartford Democrats could run Saddam Hussein for registrar in the general election and he would still win 20,000 votes.

General election voters generally don’t look at candidate names, they look at party affiliation. Perhaps non-partisan elections are the answer, where candidates run without party affiliation next to their names. Then voters might have no idea whatsoever who to vote for.

That is scarier than all the numbers above and the conclusions we can draw from them. Urania would again say voter education is the issue. But the real conundrum is Hartford’s government – the Democratic Party – repels participation. The numbers and results don’t lie.

Less participation means fewer people have greater control over the levers of power.

For comparison, Olga Vasquez received 10 percent of the general election total in the Democratic primary in August, when she gained 2786 votes (against a less-than-honorable opponent).

Out of 125,000 people in Hartford, the person in charge of our elections was selected essentially by an exclusive clique of about 1.5 percent of the people. Is this Occupy Wall Street’s rhetoric of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent in elections?

But 2012 shows the flaws in our system. Unfortunately, we are stuck with this mess of three registrars for the next four years, and we have to figure out a way to make it work, make the election run more smoothly.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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