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While the political future of Katie Harrison ’11, Mike Jones ’11 and Minh Tran ’09 hangs in the balance of Friday’s Ward 1 Democratic endorsement vote, so too does the future of the endorsement vote itself.The structure of the endorsement vote in coming years hinges on the success of Friday’s election. But the straw poll that will establish a frontrunner in the Ward 1 race this fall is less of a definitive election than a “gentleman’s agreement,” as one state official termed it.
Under Connecticut state law, Friday’s vote is technically meaningless. Invented so student voters in Ward 1 could choose their Democratic candidates before summer break, the vote was created to establish whom the Ward 1 Democratic Committee will later endorse before the state-mandated primary in September, which previously allowed for only the briefest of campaigns.
Depending on how smoothly Friday’s vote is executed, the Ward 1 Democratic Endorsement Board will either tweak the process or institute it permanently, Democratic officials say.
NOT AN OFFICIAL ELECTION
Endorsement votes are rare in Connecticut, according to several town party chairs, and Joan Andrews, the director of legal affairs and enforcement at the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said she was unfamiliar with such polls. But after reviewing the Ward 1 Democratic Committee endorsement race, she said the vote is not recognizable by the state.
“This election appears to be nothing more than a ‘gentlemen’s agreement,’” she said. “The candidates are putting their trust in each other not to run in the recognized primary in September.”
She said the State Elections Enforcement Commission only enforces state law, not civil agreements.
What this means, Andrews explained, is that a host of state laws, including those prohibiting electioneering and voter fraud, do not apply to the Ward 1 endorsement vote, because it is not recognized by the state. First, the Ward 1 Democratic Committee promises to endorse the candidate chosen in Friday’s endorsement vote; if they do not, there is nothing the candidates can do. Second, the three Democratic candidates signed a pledge stating that they will not run in the September primary if they lose Friday’s election; if they do not, there is nothing the other candidates can do.
There is no legal recourse to deal with any problems with Friday’s vote, Andrews said, whether they be innocent mistakes or outright election tampering. It falls on the honor of the candidates, she said, and the political body holding the election, to ensure that the vote comes to pass fairly.
The entire process is based solely on the promises of all parties involved.
A SECOND RUN IN NOVEMBER?
For their parts, all three candidates have said they plan to honor their signed pledge not to run again in the September primary should they lose. But when a reporter for the News at last week’s aldermanic debate asked the three candidates whether they would consider running as an Independent in the November election in the event of a close outcome of Friday’s vote, none ruled it out as a possibility.
“I think that we’d really have to see the circumstances; I really can’t say right away,” Tran said.
“I guess something could descend from the heavens and cause me to reconsider,” Jones said, adding: “I’m not planning on running again if I lose.”
“I do not think I would consider running again in November if I lost,” Harrison said, “unless there were serious issues with the process.”
And the five-person Ward 1 Democratic Endorsement Vote Board is doing its best to make the vote flawless, Ward 1 Democratic Committee Co-Chair Rhiannon Bronstein ’11 said.
THE FUTURE OF THE ENDORSEMENT VOTE
The logistics of the endorsement vote are straightforward: Registered Ward 1 Democrats will arrive at the polling place, will be asked to show identification (after their Ward 1 residence is proven via the Yale Facebook or a resident’s utility bill), and will complete a simple paper ballot that will be inserted into a single ballot box.
Though the endorsement vote does not fall under the aegis of the state, the Endorsement Vote Board made the decision that the vote will still follow all Connecticut election laws.
Once the polls close, the ballot box will be taken to a to-be-determined room in William L. Harkness Hall where the five members of the Endorsement Vote Board, as well as one representative from each candidate’s campaign, will count the ballots immediately. After the votes are tallied Friday night, there will be a public announcement of the winner in a WLH lecture hall.
Whether or not the endorsement vote runs smoothly determines whether or not it becomes a permanent feature of future Ward 1 elections, Bronstein said. In particular, some have questioned the validity of absentee ballots. As Bronstein said, the simplicity of the ballot — which only requires a signature, not a copy of a form of identification — could be susceptible to forgery. But she maintained that the Endorsement Vote Board would do everything in its power to assure the accuracy of election results.
Bronstein said that judging from the campaign season so far, the Ward 1 Democratic endorsement vote has served its purpose.
“It really has allowed for the kind of open debate and consideration that the process was designed to foster,” Bronstein said.
The Ward 1 Democratic endorsement vote will take place Friday at the New Haven Free Public Library. Polls will be open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m.