As both major political parties vie to break the 18–18 tie in the Connecticut state Senate, several Republican candidates sent out a mailer last week alleging that voters who do not participate in the election on Tuesday will be purged from voter registration rolls.
Sent out to Republican voters in competitive districts, the mailer warned voters that as a result of increased efforts to maintain accurate voter registration rolls, citizens who do not participate in the upcoming election could be removed from the rolls or placed on inactive status. Republican candidates whose districts received the mailer include Rep. Pam Staneski, R-Milford; Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia; and Deputy Senate Republican Majority Leader Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury.
“Failure to vote in the 2018 November Election could result in your registration being purged or made inactive. Both State and Federal voting rules and regulations have undergone changes in recent years,” the mailer read. “Greater effort is being made to maintain accurate and up-to-date voter registration rolls. As part of that effort, citizens skipping elections can either be removed entirely or placed on inactive status. Please make every effort to vote in the November 6, 2018 election.”
The mailer specifically cited the 2002 Help America Vote Act, which created new mandatory minimum standards in election administration for all states. Though the act states that registrants who are ineligible to vote should be removed from the list if they have not responded to a notice and have not voted in two consecutive general elections, Section 303 of the act specifies that “no registrant may be removed solely by reason of a failure to vote.”
In an interview with the News, Democratic Rep. James Maroney ’96, D-Milford, who is running against Staneski in the 14th district, contrasted his own campaign with the Republican tactics.
“We’re running an issues-based, grassroots campaign, talking directly to voters and discussing the issues with Democrats, Republicans and independent voters,” Maroney said. “I was surprised at that tactic, and I’m not sure if they felt nervous and thought they had to resort to a tactic like that to try to drum up a higher turnout from lower-performing voters.”
In the first six months of 2017, 25,015 New Haven voters were removed from the city registrar’s active rolls after an annual review flagged people who have moved, failed to vote for years or failed to mail back postcards confirming registration. Inactive voters can still vote and sign petitions for candidates but will be removed permanently from registration rolls if they do not vote for another four years.
Secretary of State Denise Merrill — a Democrat — issued a statement on Sunday condemning voter intimidation and clarifying aspects of the law surrounding challenges to voters.
“Although we take great pains to ensure that only eligible voters are allowed to vote, we are also careful to avoid potential voter intimidation,” Merrill said in the statement. “Frivolous challenges are likely to slow down the voting process, or even cause some eligible voters to stay away. Here in Connecticut, we can all agree that eligible voters should have the right to vote unimpeded.”
The Republican mailer also features a scratch-off sticker which includes information that claims to make voting easier on Election Day.
State officials said that such a mailer that purports to be an official document could cause confusion at polling places.
Maroney labeled the mailer as an attempt to “manipulate” voters in order to increase turnout among Republicans.
“I think that [voters] can look at the explanation [by Republican legislators] and ask if that’s a representation of how they want to be convinced to go to the polls, rather than by the issues,” Maroney said.
Another Republican mailer drew national criticism in late October, when a flyer sent out by Ed Charamut depicted his Jewish Democratic opponent Rep. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown, grinning while holding several $100 bills, which many Democratic officials and Jewish leaders denounced as anti-Semitic.
Charamut has since apologized for the mailer, although he maintained that it was not meant to have any religious connotations.
“We sincerely apologize to Matt Lesser, the Jewish Community and anyone who found the mailer to be anything other then [sic] a depiction of policy differences between the two candidates,” the Charamut campaign said in a Facebook post on Oct. 31.
The apology is a turnaround from sentiments in the first few days after the mailer was sent. In a statement to the News on Oct. 30, Charamut defended the mailer and denounced “those wishing to portray a graphic illustration as something hateful” as “completely wrong.”
According to the Secretary of State’s office, out of the 2.8 million residents who are of voting age, around 2.16 million Connecticut residents were registered to vote as of Oct. 31, the last day to register online. Among these registered voters are 51,659 voters aged 18–24, a stark increase from the 7,960 registered voters in this age division in 2014.
Connecticut — along with 17 other states and the District of Columbia — offers same-day voter registration. In order to register, voters must present identification and proof of residency at an Election Day registration site by 8 p.m. on Election Day.
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