‘Vive la difference!’
This time-honored French expression was first used to celebrate gender-based uniqueness; cultural trends toward inclusion have by now expanded its definition to honor all qualities that make each of us unique.
The town we share celebrated its own diversity at this month’s Woodbridge Like Me event, held immediately following the 39th annual Woodbridge Road Race on October 2. Town-based organizations were invited to participate in Woodbridge Like Me, a sister event to the library’s One Book, One Town reading selection, American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures.
Tabletop displays, activities, demonstrations, and performances underscored the creative energy and diverse interests of residents involved in scouting, Tai Chi and Taekwondo schools, the garden club, Friends of the Library, the Butterfly Chinese Dance Troupe, and a long list of other pursuits.
Woodbridge Like Me memorialized how the town is better, stronger, and more interesting for the variety of residents who live, work, study, and play here. Members of the Town’s ad hoc Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee – chaired by former First Selectman Ellen Scalettar – deserve high praise for planning the event. First Selectman Beth Heller also deserves high praise for encouraging a receptive environment and marshalling staff support for it.
This week, Woodbridge voters will once again sit idle while more than 90 percent of the rest of Connecticut – and voters across the country – prepare for a traditional Election Day on November 2. There’s no voting in Woodbridge because it has remained beholden to obsolete agrarian priorities that long ago set municipal elections for a Monday in May.
Now, with initiative from state leaders, a unified legislative delegation, and affirmative votes in both the state House and Senate, this will be the town’s last ‘no vote November.’ Standardized Tuesday elections each fall are expected to increase voter participation and will limit time spent teaching and reminding people about Monday elections in the spring.
Just as voters will more readily gravitate toward a November election cycle, with increased awareness and knowledge of candidates and issues, so too will volunteers, enthusiasm, and press coverage increase with anticipation of what has undeniably become an expected American tradition.
The Town Clerk’s office and registrars of voters will be the first to describe difficulties accessing from the state all required calendar information and assistance while only a handful of jurisdictions vote in the spring, and how resulting delays unnecessarily compound existing stressors. The change will stabilize the Town budget too, with predictable costs for one general election each fiscal year instead of two in one budget cycle and none the next, as it has been.
Many local Republicans oppose this effort to increase participation in the election process. Their resistance mirrors overt Republican efforts nationwide to restrict ballot access and keep elections from being a genuinely democratic process. Fully 19 Republican-dominated state legislatures enacted laws this year, “that voting rights experts say will essentially allow Republicans to declare their own outcomes for elections,” according to Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson.
In Congress, efforts to fortify the federal government’s responsibility to protect voting rights in this year’s Freedom to Vote Act were stymied last week by 41 Senate Republicans, representing just 21 percent of the American population. Many Republicans seem intent on perpetuating this type of minority rule; Senate Republicans prevented even a discussion of the bill that would, among other things, provide more accessible voter registration, allow early voting and voting-by-mail, prohibit partisan gerrymandered redistricting, protect election officials from post-election second-guessing and partisan attacks, and ensure a paper trail for all ballots.
It’s worrisome that many local and state Republicans seem willing to co-sign deliberate attempts to limit ballot access and potentially skew election results. Thank goodness Woodbridge can rely upon local and state leaders who instead encourage greater civic participation through widely expected, readily accessible, free and fair November elections.