Events target local voter turnout

Although voter registration and participation rates across the nation have been low for decades, members of the Connecticut nonprofit organization DemocracyWorks say they hope to change those statistics.

Starting today and running through Friday, DemocracyWorks will be hosting Library Voter Registration Week statewide. The week will include a variety of events designed to increase turnout and voter education.

Although New Haven has approximately 53,572 registered voters, turnout is on average only 30 percent across elections, said Rae Tramontano, New Haven’s Republican registrar of voters.

“Sometimes in a municipal election it’s 15 percent,” she said. “It’s sad. … When I started 20 years ago, it used to be 70 percent. People are not as patriotic as they used to be.”

In hopes of increasing voter awareness and participation, DemocracyWorks will run three main activities in New Haven’s main library on Elm Street.

On Tuesday, there will be an immigrant voting workshop at 6 p.m. in the performing arts area. Minaren Bozeman, the voter education and outreach coordinator for DemocracyWorks, said the aim of this event is to outline the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

The League of Women Voters and other community organizations will register voters from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the lobby on Wednesday’s Voter Registration Day. Kathie Hurley, a spokeswoman for New Haven’s public library system, said that unlike the other two events — which are new this year — the League has held many registration drives at the main library in the past.

On Friday, DemocracyWorks will host a workshop called “Restoring Your Right to Vote.” The workshop will be held at 3 p.m. in the community program room at the main library. Bozeman said the event is designed to help individuals who have been convicted of a felony and sentenced to probation understand how to restore their voting rights.

Bozeman said changes made this year to Connecticut’s voting rights registration law will allow released prisoners to follow a simpler process.

“The new language is significant in the sense that prior to the signing of the bill, individuals had to appear in person and provide proof that they were no longer incarcerated,” she said. “Now it is not required.”

The Department of Corrections has now created a certification of discharge form that seeks to explain the process of restoring voting rights. If people understand how to use the form, Bozeman said, restoring rights after incarceration should be much less confusing than it was in the past.

Hurley said she thinks the library is a logical place to hold these events.

“We have a community of active people, and it just seems [to be] such a good space, and people feel very comfortable in the library,” she said. “It is nonpartisan and open to those kinds of discussions.”

Neither Hurley nor Bozeman could predict how many people would attend the events, but Bozeman said that even if only a few people come to her workshops, she will feel she had succeeded.

“If we get one person to show up for our workshop, we’ve done our job,” she said.

Bozeman’s goal is more than just registering voters, she said. She also thinks it is important to educate people about candidates and about the political process in general.

“It doesn’t matter what party they register with,” Bozeman said. “We’ll also give them information on places where they can look up information, in hopes that they learn something that they can pass on to the next person and the next person.”

Founded in 1999, DemocracyWorks is a nonpartisan organization that works in collaboration with other groups to advocate policy changes.

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