A trio of candidates vying to become Connecticut’s next chief elections official gathered Tuesday at the Hartford Public Library to talk about why they are running, while a fourth candidate stood outside the library handing out fliers.
Mike DeRosa of Hartford, a Green Party candidate running for Secretary of the State, said he was not allowed to participate in Tuesday’s event.
Officials with Hartford Votes and Hartford Vota Coalition, which organized the forum, said the forum was for those running in the Aug. 10 primary. They said it was not for candidates on the November ballot.
Then why was Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell, the lone Republican candidate, allowed to participate?
“We didn’t want to uninvite him,” Richard Frieder of the Hartford Public Library said, adding that when the invitations went out, Corey Brinson of Bloomfield was still in the Republican primary race.
“Convenient for them to say that,” DeRosa said as he stood outside on the sidewalk prior to the start of the event. “We can’t participate in this event and we’re not even allowed to participate in primaries.”
DeRosa, who received enough votes when he ran for Secretary of the State in 2006 to receive an automatic ballot line this year, said most states don’t ban third-party or open primaries like Connecticut. He said his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights are being trampled.
When it came to the question and answer portion of the forum, the two candidates that were still in attendance – Gerry Garcia of New Haven and Farrell – addressed the issue of open primaries.
Farrell said that in 1991 and 1993 there were proposals made by the legislature to create an open primary process, but those were rejected. He said he’s interested in the issue, but would have to look at the mechanics of it before saying it is something he would support.
“The more choices voters can have, the better,” Farrell said.
Garcia said he believes the number of choices voters have this year are related to the Citizens’ Election Program, which is the state’s publicly funded campaign system. DeRosa pointed out that third party candidates also are left out of the Citizens’ Election Fund. As a Green Party candidate, DeRosa doesn’t qualify for the $375,000 state grant for which the major party candidates are vying in the Secretary of the State’s race.
But Garcia showed no sympathy. He said he believes in the “sanctity” of the party process.
Denise Merrill, Garcia’s Democratic opponent in the August primary, left the forum early to meet a group of voters in New Canaan.
Prior to leaving for New Canaan, Merrill said she is running to build civic involvement and to help modernize the election and business registration systems.
“Susan Bysiewicz did a good job,” Merrill said. “When she came into office 12 years ago things were on paper,” and while more information is now online, “more needs to be done.”
Merrill, Garcia, and Farrell all agreed that the Secretary of the State’s office needs to put more information online both for elections and business registration side of the office.
Garcia said early voting is an essential part of his platform. He said the need for early voting hit home with him when his mother, who was very sick at the time, insisted on voting in person in 2008. He held Oregon up several times as an example of how things could work in Connecticut. He said for the past 12 years the state of Oregon has allowed voting by mail and its turnout in its last referendum was around 62 percent, a disappointing turnout for that state.
Garcia asked the audience of about 20 people to compare that with the 34 percent turnout Connecticut had in the 2009 municipal elections.
He said that early voting doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted by mail. It also can be conducted in person.
“I’m not afraid when people vote,” Garcia said.
Farrell said he is not sold on early voting, but he does approve of “no excuse absentee” ballots. He said you should not have to lie about being out-of-state or sick to vote by absentee ballot.
He said early voting may be too much of a change for an office that needs to “try to fix what we have.”
Merrill said it will take a constitutional amendment to implement an early voting system, but Garcia isn’t so sure it can’t be done without a constitutional amendment. He said that is just what the Office of Legislative Research concluded.