It appears that Your Humble Blogger has not yet done a puff piece for the League of Women Voters, one of my favorite organizations. Not that I actually know very much about them, but their information has been tremendously helpful to me as a voter (not, as such, a woman) over the years. They distribute sample ballots, they provide comparisons between candidates and proposals, and they organize debates, speeches and other informational events. They register people, they help them find out where and how to vote, and they encourage involvement in democracy.
You remember me hocking about Walt Whitman? And how the point of democracy is not to create a good government, but to create a good population? We’ve been pretty cranky about that lately here in the Tohu Bohu, and it’s good to remember, sometimes, that the League of Women Voters is not yet a hundred years old, and is in itself a terrific argument for democracy.
One might think, though, that in these internetty days, the LWV would be less important. After all, the local election board can put a sample ballot on-line for your perusal and can make it easy for you to type in your address and get your polling place, complete with map, directions and satellite imagery. The candidates can do that on their own websites, too, as can the political parties and other interested organizations. Anyone can post a comparison between candidates or initiatives, and ask the candidates to respond to a set of questions, or post voting records, report cards on issues, and texts or even videos of speeches.
But somehow I could not get a simple answer to my questions. I’ve been a resident of my (rich, well-educated, white 06119) town for less than two years, and so have not voted in a municipal election yet. It’s clear from yard signs, newspaper reports and local events that we have a town council election, a board of education election and a town clerk election. But every town sets these things up differently, so I have no idea what my own ballot will look like, or who I might vote for. Do town councilmen represent districts, or the town at large? If it’s at large, is it 12-pick-6 or 5-pick-4? Are the candidates’ Parties identified on the ballot? I searched on-line (and some of you know that I have mighty search skills), but I could not find one place that had all the information I wanted. I even tried emailing my Party’s town committee, which has conspicuously failed to update their website for the municipal election. They have not yet responded.
Fortunately, the LWVGreaterHartford sent me an eight-page broadsheet with the sample ballot. Sadly, they don’t seem to have updated their own website in some years, but in print, they win. In addition to the ballot, a nice map of polling places, and some useful information on our new machines, they have responses from the Town Council candidates to six yes-or-no questions and four essay questions, as well as four questions for the candidates for the Board of Education, and some brief information on the Town Clerk candidates.
Now, West Hartford is a Democratic town. It appears that there are nine members on the City Council, six of whom are Democrats. And, strangely enough, in our Town Charter it states
At the elections as hereinbefore provided no political party shall nominate and no elector shall vote for more than six members of the council, and one registrar of voters. In the election of 1997, and quadrennially thereafter, no political party shall nominate and no elector shall vote for more than three members of the board of education, and in the election of 1999, and quadrennially thereafter no political party shall nominate and no elector shall vote for more than three members of the board of education.
So that there can be by law no more than six Democrats out of nine seats. Which seems very odd to me, but there it is. Anyway, the point of the Charter, and the point I was getting at, is that this is a solid Democratic town, just this side of utter one-party dominance. So the Democrats running for Town Council are either incumbents or the party of incumbency; they have to defend what the current Council is doing. But the Republicans are running as challengers, and in a town like this, they certainly don’t have to support the state or national Party policies to get onto the ballot. Which means that when the LWVGH asked “Is the Town sufficiently encouraging and enforcing recycling?” all but one of the Republican candidates said No, and all the Democratic candidates said Yes. When asked “Is the Town sufficiently encouraging citizens to participate in clean energy programs?” all the Republicans said No, and all the Democrats said Yes.
The League doesn’t interpret those responses, you know. It just prints ’em.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,