As we went to press this Tuesday, state officials were still sifting through recounts in three House races and one in the Senate. But it’s the Southington race that holds the biggest implications, because the Speaker of the House position lies in the balance. Last election, it was Liz Linehan waiting for the official tally. This time, Joe Aresimowicz was left holding his breath. The Speaker, who seemed to dodge a bullet when his first GOP opponent withdrew in scandal, faced just as tough a challenge by last-minute replacement, Michael Gagliardi. The race was too close to call when we went to press last week (19 votes), but it seemed to move out of recount territory when it grew to 37 by morning.
Democrats announced their caucus vote on Thursday, selecting Aresimowicz to another term as Speaker. Then Secretary of the State Denise Merrill announced the recount. No big deal since it won’t be official until January, but Dems spent the week backpedaling while awaiting the final tally.
It’s the perfect ending to another interesting Connecticut election where New Haven controversies dominate the headlines. At least they had enough ballots—this time—but wet ballots, broken voting machines, and controversy unfolding in city hall as the polls closed showed that Connecticut—especially New Haven—has a long way to go with elections.
This year’s controversy revolved around a long line of Election Day Registration (EDR) voters whose registration and voting weren’t complete when the polls closed at 8 p.m. Connecticut’s law is pretty clear, “you must be registered by 8 p.m. in order to vote,” so Republicans immediately filed an injunction about the 64 people that were waiting in line when the polls closed. The injunction was eventually dropped when Bob Stefanowski conceded the gubernatorial race.
It’s too bad. We wish state officials or state courts would have been able to rule upon this important legal point now, so we can avoid any future controversies. We don’t like going into future elections with rules still open for interpretation.
It’s a new problem. Connecticut approved its EDR law in 2012, so it’s only been six years since voters were given the right to register and cast votes on the same day as the election. Connecticut was just the 11th state to allow it. Even now, there are only 17 states, along with Washington D.C. (and soon, Washington state) that have approved EDR. Almost two thirds of the nation’s states still don’t allow it.
No matter what party affiliation, most can agree that every legal vote should be counted, and all eligible people have the right to vote. But EDR has already caused unecessary delays in the state’s election process, and it won’t go away if we ignore it. Even in Southington, results were delayed by manual counts for the high volume of EDR voters.
We hope that legislators don’t just ignore this problem, hoping that it goes away. Unfortunately, most lawmakers use the “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to passing legislation, especially legislation that can cause them to lose votes. Legislators seldom go back to determine if their laws were effective, need to be changed, or need to be reworked. So we kick the can down the road.
It’s not a small problem. A 2012 Pew Charitable Trust study claimed that 24 percent of the nation’s eligible voters aren’t registered to vote (over 51 million voters). Everyone should have the same right to vote, but extending time to register in one town while others close on time is just as unfair.
These ongoing problems in New Haven should spark a public debate about the state’s election processes. At the very least, legislators should close up any loopholes or potential controversy…before New Haven’s next Election Day debacle.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.