Selectmen Decide Not to Challenge State on Streamlining Process
Republican opposition notwithstanding, the Woodbridge Board of Selectmen voted down the motion by Selectman David Lober to keep municipal elections on the first Monday in May. The vote, 2:4, was taken at a special meeting of the board on October 27.
Lober made the motion after he learned that the state legislature was trying to streamline elections by striking the May option from the language, unless the town’s legislative body votes to keep it in May.
With this vote, the board voted not to insist on the first Monday in May date. The next municipal election will therefore take place on the first Tuesday in November 2023, instead of the first Monday in May. Officials elected in May of 2021 will be in office five months beyond their two-year term.
Republican Town Committee Chairman Chuck Pyne urged residents in a newspaper article (Woodbridge Town News, Other Side of the Aisle, October 1) to object to the state efforts at streamlining election processes. Only four communities still observe the May elections, namely Bethany, Woodbridge, Avon and Union.
Pyne suggested that May elections would generate better coverage in regional media, while in November the town would have to compete with everyone else for editorial attention. He said there is absolutely no financial gain for the town. And, tongue in cheek, he added “would you rather stand outside in May or in November.”
The initiative to switch the remaining towns from a May to the general November schedule came from the State Committee on Government Administration and Elections, but it allows municipalities to continue with May elections, if “the legislative body of such municipality…so determined by a two-thirds vote.”
When Pyne called in at the special selectmen’s meeting, he argued that the more Hartford legislates, “the more they want every town to look like every other town.” But while Woodbridge officials follow the state leadership, “there is a strong bipartisan movement in Bethany to keep elections in May,” he said. “They like the unique character of that.”
Former Democratic Registrar of Voters Jeanette Glicksman in a letter to the Board of Selectmen expressed full support for the change to November elections. “This change is long overdue and much needed,” she wrote. She said that the May elections contribute to low voter turnout. Glicksman also pointed out that the scheduling prevents the local registrars from conducting the annual canvas. “The few May election towns must skip the canvas – as voters cannot be removed prior to an election,” she wrote. Instead, they canvass in even years.
Selectman Sheila McCreven also expects a better voter turnout for the November elections. She said in her experience, many people are not aware that municipal elections are at a different time and a different day – Monday instead of the November Tuesday. “It’s good for democracy,” she said.
Bethany First Selectwoman Paula Cofrancesco, when reached by the Woodbridge Town News, said she was going to add the issue to the December Board of Selectmen meeting agenda for discussion. However, given that Bethany does not have a charter, the issue has to go to Town Meeting for a vote – which may be as late as the Annual Town Meeting in the spring, unless there are other reasons to call a special Town Meeting. She said town officials she has talked to so far would prefer to keep the May election because it aligns with the fiscal year, which starts on July 1, along with the terms of the elected folks.
Woodbridge Selectman David Vogel did not agree that the data suggests stronger voter participation in November, calling it “anecdotal evidence.” “There is no real data that suggests that voting would be stronger at one particular time or another,” he said.
Pyne agreed. What drives participation is a contested election at the top of the ticket, he said. Bethany, in fact, at its last May election had a voter turnout of 47%, similar to Orange this November. By comparison, the Woodbridge turnout this year was 37.6% – with First Selectman Beth Heller running unopposed.
Selectman Paul Kuriakose voted with his fellow Democrats not to insist on the May schedule. “Doing it in November is much more convenient,” he said. “It just makes sense.”
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent