Town Council Proposes Moving Second Budget Referendum to November Fourth
Posted by whforums on August 13, 2008
The Bare Fact
In a remarkable turn of political gamesmanship, the Town Council last night proposed delaying the September 30th budget referendum by 36 days to November 4th, the date of the general (and presidential) election.
Defending September 30th
I should really start from the beginning, because the rhetoric surrounding the proposal is as careful as it is dismaying. Early in the meeting, Judy Aron argued that the date of the September 30th referendum should not be changed even though it falls on Rosh Hashanah. Aron argued that absentee ballots could be distributed and that amending the town charter would set dangerous precedent.
The October 7th Proposal (or, The Red Herring)
Soon thereafter, cloaking himself in the claim that everyone should have equal access to the polls, Mayor Slifka argued that there was legal precedent (from a case in Rhode Island, no less) to postpone the referendum because of Rosh Hashanah. Slifka proposed that the referendum be delayed until October 7th (one week after the original date) – a reasonable compromise and one that may still come to fruition.
The 30 Thousand Dollar Excuse
It’s the series of events that happened next that’s simply remarkable. Slifka argued that because special elections cost the town 30 thousand dollars per election, the town could save money by petitioning the legislature (while they’re in special session) for permission to consolidate our voting by moving our referendum from September 30th to November 4th, the date of the general election. In a surprise (though seemingly orchestrated) move, councilman Joe Visconti, who most would identify as a WHTA supporter and “No” voter, agreed that the November 4th referendum date – a date clearly advantageous to the “Yes” vote – was a good idea, despite the fact that it represents a 36 day delay from the date our charter appoints.
It seems pretty clear what Slifka and Visconti get out of this deal. If the special session of the legislature approves a November 4th referendum, Slifka gets a referendum vote on a day when “Yes” voters are far more likely to be at the polls. I think there’s little dispute that a referendum on November 4th and a referendum on October 7th would lead to significantly different vote totals. Meanwhile, Visconti, who is running for the US House against John Larson, gets a bump from the “No” vote that turns out to vote on the referendum. West Hartford is a significant get in the first district, and while the odds are slim that Visconti will win West Hartford, a surge of “No” turnout will likely help him to establish a more credible number of total votes in a campaign that’s largely a lost cause.
This referendum, which is designed to be a tool of the people, will become a tool of our politicians.
The part that gets me the most? The council unanimously approved the delay of the referendum to the seventh of October with the possible 36 day delay to the date of the general election.
The politics of this is really smart. Unfortunately, its intelligence is at the expense and manipulation of our local democracy.