The social action group Bridgeport Generation Now, in advance of its City Council candidate forum Wednesday at the Bijou Theater, shares its latest research and policy recommendations focused on democratic empowerment. What could that be? Reforming absentee ballot process and the Democratic Town Committee.
Generation Now is home to new community insurgents including an infusion of young people espousing transparency, inclusiveness and election reforms. Do they have staying power? That’s always the question with a new organization. Check out the group’s position on absentee ballots and the Bridgeport DTC.
Absentee ballots, when used properly, actually serve an important role in making sure all citizens’ voices are heard and their votes are counted! Absentee ballots enfranchise people who have difficulty getting to the polls on election day. According to the Secretary of the State’s Office, there are six legitimate reasons why someone votes by absentee ballot.
If any of these six reasons apply to you, you might need to vote by absentee ballot. In order to do this, you must fill out an application for an absentee ballot. Absentee Ballot Applications are publicly available on the Town Clerk’s page on the City Website at www.bridgeportct.gov.
Once your application is received and accepted by the Town Clerk, your absentee ballot will be mailed to you. The Town Clerk mails out absentee ballots on a rolling basis starting three weeks ahead of any election. You, the voter, then must complete your ballot at home and mail it back into the Town Clerk.
So why are Absentee Ballots such a problem in Bridgeport? And why are political campaigns often involved?
Core Members Niels Heilmann and Adhlere Coffy looked into Bridgeport’s long and sordid history with Absentee Ballot abuse. Through their research, they propose some concrete steps we as a city can take to stop the fraudulent and suppressive practices.
RESEARCH AND POLICY
Absentee Ballots Research
POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS for Political Campaigns, Registrar of Voters, and State Delegation:
We need better local educational efforts. There are several locations in Bridgeport that receive a heavy concentration of absentee ballots. Citizens might not know the rules governing absentee ballots. Voting by Absentee Ballot might also be the only way they know how to vote. They also might be afraid of losing their housing if they vote the “wrong way.” This lack of information causes confusion that can be preyed upon. Educational efforts by the Registrar of Voters should be focused on the areas of high absentee ballot concentration, such as elderly and assisted living facilities, and public housing, and could be in the form of a website, posters on the rules of absentee ballots, lectures, and seminars.
We need outside observation and monitoring. Given the history of hard evidence of absentee ballot issues in Bridgeport, we should call for outside parties to monitor the use of absentee ballots in our elections, such as:
• League of Women Voters or other fair election groups
• State of CT SOTS or SEEC
We need rule changes at the state level. Initiatives can level the playing field and take the power out of the hands of political operatives, with maximum enfranchisement including:
• Allowing early voting. According to Vote.org, “Most states offer early voting at this point.”
• Allowing “convenience” or “no excuse” absentee balloting.
City Council Comments (from 6/21/17)
City Council Members openly discussed Bridgeport’s problems with Absentee Ballot fraud and agreed there needs to be better supervision and education.
Democratic Town Committee
Many people want to know, what is a Town Committee?
The function of a Town Committee is to build and maintain the social movement of political campaigns. According to this training manual from the Maine Green Independent Party, a Town Committee helps grow a political party as an institution by maintaining voter and volunteer information and growing membership. It also builds the foundation for future election victories. Ideally, a Town Committee is driven by the ideas and issues of that political party.
In Bridgeport, we have a Democratic Town Committee. We also have a Republican Town Committee. The primary role of these organizations is endorsing candidates for public office, conducting party business, electing a chairperson and raising money.
If you are a registered Democrat or Republican, you actually elect the members of the Town Committee. There are nine people in every voting district on the Democratic Town Committee and seven people on the Republican Town Committee. We have ten voting districts, so there are 90 DTC members and 70 RTC members total!
We have a lot of registered Democrats in Bridgeport. According to a 2016 article in the CT Post, 68.5% of all active voters in Bridgeport are Democrats. So ideally, the Democratic Town Committee should be a robust, civic institution that drives policy ideas and issue platforms and turns out the best candidates.
Core Members Dayna Lindo, Melanie Jackson, and Gage Frank researched this local organization and discovered that the Democratic Town Committee is not an open, “democratic” (little d) institution. Their research shows a critical need for reforms that will make the DTC accountable to the public, and put issues and ideas ahead of personal gain.
RESEARCH AND POLICY
Democratic Town Committee Research
POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS for citizens and local and state officials:
If you are a member of the Democratic Party, you should run for Town Committee in your district! Getting new people involved will help the institution focus on new ideas and new energy.
The DTC should create a website and publicly post all district meetings–including the locations, agendas and minutes.
The DTC should promote and represent Democratic (big D) ideals and policies. Tell us what you stand for and why! The DTC should commit to nurturing and growing candidates who stand for ideas and good policies, and not just for their own personal gain.
For our State Delegation: Research and analyze the trend of unaffiliated voters in Bridgeport and Connecticut. Craft legislation that could allow Bridgeport to hold open primaries to dilute the monopoly by political parties. Read this “Open Primaries: Pro Vs. Con” Paper from the League of Women Voters, Tennessee.
City Council Members openly discussed that patronage might be a problem. They agreed that the DTC could be more open and encouraged everyone to come to committee meetings.