Gerrymandering – It has Happened to Us, will it Happen Again?

Ask the Registrar

Your place to get Questions Answered about Voting and Local Elections in Stratford CT.

By James Simon
Democratic Registrar

The gerrymandering and political manipulation of our town’s voting lines was so brazen 20 years ago that it attracted national attention.  A New York Times story on June 8, 2003 quoted Stratford residents as saying the Republican-led town redistricting, after the 2000 U.S. Census, was “silly,” “a sham,” and “absurd.”

The Oronoque Village condo complex was cut in half and placed in two separate town council districts, increasing the chances for GOP candidates to win both districts. The change came despite condo residents complaining it will “pit neighbor against neighbor within the complex when political and budgetary interests differ in the two districts,” the story said.

Ten years later, after the 2010 Census, redistricting returned. Republicans continued the Oronoque Village split and presented a new map that turned the Second District into a five-armed octopus. The GOP continued to pack many of the town’s minority residents into a single district, and it increased the Republican numbers in the Lordship Neighborhood’s First District by reaching out to include far-flung, tony neighborhoods near the abandoned Shakespeare Theatre and along the Housatonic River waterfront.

Now, as politicians await the release of the 2020 Census, Stratford residents – and Connecticut citizens across the state – should brace themselves for another round of political gamesmanship. Local government officials will redraw local boundaries to make them roughly the same size in population, consistent with the law – and to usually benefit of the party in charge.

Here is a spotlight on this often overlooked process.

Low Profile, High Stakes Redistricting

My home town of Stratford may seem to be an unlikely place for Republican gerrymandering to occur. We vote Democratic for president, U.S. Senate, Congress, and usually for state legislative candidates.

But after the federal Census in 2000 and 2010, Republicans on the Town Council succeeded in tailoring the district boundaries to their advantage. The result:  the GOP has won a majority of the Town Council seats in 16 of the last 18 years, in this usually blue town.

Now comes the 2020 Census.  Some small Connecticut towns have a single voting district, so there are no redistricting battles. In medium to large municipalities with multiple districts, the redrawing of the local boundaries often attracts minimal attention.

After each Census, Connecticut cities and towns usually appoint redistricting commissions, made up of members of both political parties. The party with a majority on the local city or town council usually has a dominant role in setting the final boundary
lines.

In Stratford, each of the 10 districts needs to be within 5 percent of the average number of residents – not voters — across all districts. In this town of over 50,000 residents, we expect there to be about 35,000 adults counted in the census for Stratford in 2020. If there are 10 districts each averaging 3,500 residents, then the final lines would have to be drawn so that each district would have between 3,250 and 3,750 residents.

Local communities want their district lines to match those of state House and Senate district lines, so they often wait until congressional and state legislative boundaries are drawn, based on the newly released Census data, then act on local boundaries.  Computer tools like GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software help politicians fine tune which residents, from which party, go into which district.

Resistance to Changing New District Lines

In Stratford, the new district lines are expected to be approved in time for use in the 2022 state legislative election and the 2023 municipal election. Once any redistricting map is approved, a certain inertia sets in.

Politicians who are successfully elected in a given district usually don’t want a lot of changes that might hurt their chance in the next election. And voters generally hate, HATE to be told they have been moved to a new district and forced to interact with a new polling location and possibly a new town council representative.

When Oronoque Village was divided in half, some local leaders talked of suing their town or even seceding from Stratford and joining nearby Shelton. There are far fewer complaints these days as people got used to the new political realities and have a natural reluctance to have their town council member and polling place changed once again.

Ten Year Impact 
Stratford will be electing a mayor, as well as town council candidates, this fall, and usually the mayoral race would receive the most attention. Both parties are putting together the strongest slates of Town Council candidates as possible in hopes of winning a majority of the 10 Council seats. The winning party will dominate the local redistricting process in 2022 and will help determine the town’s political fate all the way until the 2030s, when the process begins again.

Elections have consequences, and the Fall 2021 municipal elections will have redistricting consequences for 10 long years.  There are lots of sexier issues to follow; this is one you need to pay attention to.

James Simon is the Democratic Registrar of Voters in Stratford.  In an earlier life, he covered elections for 10 years as a political reporter with The Associated Press. Adapted from a story that first ran in the CTMirror.com, 4-28-21

Ask the Registrar

Your place to get Questions Answered about Voting and Local Elections in Stratford CT

By James Simon
Democratic Registrar

Q: I heard a few people refused to wear masks when entering a polling place in Stratford last November. Were they allowed to vote?
Stratford had a supply of free masks at every polling location, available to any voter who needed one. If a voter refused to wear one, they were still allowed to vote; the Secretary of State’s office ruled a local resident could not be kept out of a polling location despite the governor’s executive order mandating masks. Republican Registrar Lou DeCilio estimated two or three people in Stratford may have voted without masks.

Q: What’s the difference between being an Independent voter and an Unaffiliated voter?
In Connecticut, there is an official Independent Party. So if you specify you are an Independent when you register to vote, that means you want to be listed as a member of the Independent Party. Unaffiliated means you do not identify with any of the major parties (Democrat, Republican) or minor parties (which also include the Working Families Party and the Green Party).

Q: I read that in Georgia, it is now illegal to even give a bottle of water to a person standing in line on a hot day. What about Stratford?
In Stratford and throughout Connecticut, you cannot approach a voter – for whatever reason — within 75 feet of a polling place. In Georgia, where voters sometimes have to wait two hours in line, a new law prohibits anyone from approaching a voter within 150 feet of a poll. In addition, it also prevents any type of assistance “within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.”

Q: I don’t have a driver’s license or any picture ID. Does that mean I can’t vote?
In Connecticut, you must present some form of pre-printed identification, either when you first register or when you show up to vote. We have accepted a pre-printed bank statement or utility bill with the name and address specified.

Q: Can homeless people vote?
Yes. Homeless people have the same right to vote as any citizen. It is a challenge for voting officials to get a formal identification from a homeless person or even decide in which town district they should vote. The Secretary of State’s office notes that “courts have said that an individual is a resident of a town if they have some nexus to that particular town, and there is an intention to return to the town when absent from it. This could be some town that (they) have spent time in, slept in, and intend to go back to even if (they) are not presently there.”

More Questions? Please send them to Registrar Jim Simon; jsimon@townofstratford.com. This is not an official publication of the Town of Stratford. (Vol. 1, No. 4; April 2021)

Rental Assistance for Stratford Residents

by State Representative Joe Gresko, (D)
Connecticut House District 121

The Renters’ Rebate program opened April 1st, and runs through October 1st. This program provides rental reimbursement to elderly and disabled residents in need. These rebates can be up to $900 for married couples and $700 for individuals. The amount is based on a graduated income scale and the amount of rent and utility payments (excluding telephone) made in the prior calendar year.

Who is eligible?

Renters who meet the one-year state residency requirement, and are one of the following:

  • A renter (or their spouse) who is 65 years of age or older, or
  • A renter who is 50 years of age or older and is the surviving spouse of a renter who at the time of the renter’s death had qualified and was entitled to tax relief provided such spouse was domiciled with such renter at the time of the renters’ death, or
  • A renter who is 18 years of age or older and eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.

Applications can be made at the town social service agency or the Stratford Tax Assessor’s Office.  For more information, please call the Renters’ Rebate Hotline at 860-418-6377

Please share with this information with anyone that might be able to take advantage of this program, which helps people on low or fixed incomes. During these difficult economic times, programs like this are more important than ever.

We Are Rated “High Quality”

Connecticut Gets Top Bond Rating

by Connecticut State Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden

For the first time in 20 years, a Wall Street credit rating agency has formally upgraded its rating of Connecticut’s finances. Moody’s Investors Service upgraded its ranking for two types of state bonds, a move that could generate reduced borrowing costs going forward.

“This rating upgrade is exceptional news for Connecticut and sends a clear signal that its improved long-term financial sustainability will contribute toward a strong economic recovery,” state Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden said Wednesday. Wooden called the upgrade “a direct result of our smart fiscal policies practiced during the past few years” that have left state government with a record-high $3 billion emergency budget reserve.

Moody’s raised Connecticut’s bond rating from A1 to Aa3 — from its fifth-highest ranking to its fourth-highest. The Aa3 rating also places Connecticut in the “high quality” bond category rather than “upper medium” grade. The rating upgrade impacts $16 billion of General Obligation bonds, $1.7 billion of University of Connecticut bonds (upgraded from A1 to Aa3 also), as well as approximately $6 billion of Special Tax Obligation bonds issued for transportation purposes (upgraded from A1 to Aa3 also). In addition, other state backed bond issued by quasi-public agencies are also
upgraded.

Connecticut will now have the ability to access funding for critical infrastructure investments at even more attractive interest rates which will strengthen our economic recovery and save taxpayer dollars in the long-term.

The state borrows billions of dollars annually by selling bonds on Wall Street, using the funds for municipal school construction, highway and bridge upgrades, capital projects at state colleges and universities, economic development programs, state building renovations, clean water projects and other initiatives.

Ask The Registrar

By Jim Simon
Democrat Registrar Town of Stratford

Q: How does the Registrar ensure that a person voting in person has not also sent in an Absentee Ballot (AB), especially if Absentee Ballots that are postmarked by Election Day arrive several days later?

Connecticut law stipulates that ABs must be received by 8 p.m. Election Night; those received after that, even if postmarked on time, are not counted. In 2020, when Stratford was flooded by 10,000 ABs instead of the normal 3,500, the Registrars paused processing them on Sunday afternoon. For this first batch, they placed an AB notation next to your name at the polling locations so you could not also vote on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a second batch of ballots that arrived Monday and Tuesday before 8 p.m. were held and counted Thursday after making sure the person did not also vote at the polls. GOP Registrar Lou DeCilio says three or four people who submitted ABs also voted at the polls Tuesday. Their AB was not counted.

Q: Your office just sent me a letter, asking whether I had moved across town and whether I was still registered to vote in Stratford. Why do you care where I live, as long as I stay in Stratford?

If you stay in Stratford but move to a new neighborhood, there’s a good chance you are in a different voting district, and you will choose among different candidates for town council, other local offices, and legislative races. So your information has to be up to date.

Want to check to make sure you are registered at the right address in Stratford? Go to https://portaldir.ct.gov/sots/LookUp.aspx and insert your name and date of birth. The web site will tell you the name of your voting district and where you can cast a ballot this November for Mayor and Town Council. Give it a try!

Q. Any word on when Stratford will get the 2020 U.S. Census data to redraw its town council district lines?

The U.S. Census Bureau has announced it would delay delivering its redistricting data to the states until Sept. 30, 2021, instead of March 31, 2021. This may cause a chain reaction, as Hartford will be delayed in setting legislative lines, and that may push back municipal efforts in Stratford and other towns.

The local redistricting effort is conducted by a town-appointed committee; the committee recommendation then gets considered by the Town Council and Mayor. Whatever party wins the mayor’s race and majority of town council seats in November 2021 will have an upper hand in the process. Once approved, the new district lines are designed to be in effect for 10 years, starting with the Fall 2023 Town Council races.

Q: I have a question about my “bona fide” residence for voting. If I walked into your office and presented a CT Driver’s license with a Trumbull address, would you register me to vote in Stratford if I told you I voted from Lordship five years ago before moving, and I still feel like a bona fide Stratford resident? Even if I sleep in Trumbull as my condo and car taxes are cheaper there?

As I said in the last column, Connecticut allows you to vote from your “bona fide” residence, but doesn’t define the term. Under court rulings, Connecticut residents have been allowed to vote in their former municipality, even after moving to another town, if they say they have plans to move back to their previous home. Car registration is not a significant factor.

While I don’t agree with this approach, I don’t see evidence that there are a lot of people who vote in Stratford but have a full-time residence elsewhere.

Q: Ranked Choice Voting has been implemented in Maine and also has been approved statewide in New York.  Do you think Connecticut should follow suit?

Imagine there are four candidates on the ballot for Stratford Mayor this November. You love one candidate, but you don’t think she or he is going to win, so you vote for somebody else. What if you could rank the candidates in terms of which ones you favor the most, and the least?

That’s the theory behind Ranked Choice Voting. If no one wins 50% plus one, the candidate with the lowest vote total is dropped. That candidate’s supporters have their votes redistributed, based on their second choice. The process continues until someone hit the 50%+ mark.

While I think it is worth discussing, I am apprehensive of any change that makes it harder to know the winner immediately after polls close. I would rather put my energies into pushing for expanded mail-in voting and allowing people to cast ballots for several days leading into Election Day.

State Representative Joseph Gresko Named Environment Committee Co-Chair

Connecticut House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D-Hartford) announced the appointment of Rep. Joseph P. Gresko (D-Stratford) as the new House chair of the Environment Committee.

Rep. Gresko had been serving as chair of the Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee. This change comes as part of a series of committee reassignments following the election of Rep. Patricia Billie Miller to the State Senate.

“Rep. Gresko, who has previously served as vice chair of this committee, has been one of the most passionate advocates for the protection and preservation of our environment,” said Speaker Ritter. “I am confident that he will make sure Connecticut safeguards its natural resources and is a national leader in the fight against climate change.”

“I am grateful to Speaker Ritter and Majority Leader Rojas for placing their trust in me to lead the Environment Committee,” said Rep. Gresko. “As someone who lives in and represents a coastal community, I am well aware of the work that we must do to protect and maintain our beautiful parks, beaches, and waterways from the harmful effects of pollution and a changing climate. I’m excited to address these challenges right away.”

In addition to his legislative work on environmental issues, Rep. Gresko is a Green/Energy Coordinator for the City of Bridgeport and is a member of both the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA) and the Trust for Public Land (TPL).

Rep. Gresko, who was first elected to represent the 121st District in the House of Representatives in 2016, also sits on the Energy and Technology Committee.

Climate Change: Connecticut’s Proposals

Monday Public Hearing

On Monday, the Environment Committee will hold a public hearing on the Governor’s climate change proposals, including the implementation of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). This is a highly controversial plan to place a cap on carbon emissions created by gasoline producers and suppliers. TCI is expected to involve multiple states across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic all putting the same driver-paid taxes and fees in place.

The following proposals are open for discussion from the public:
S.B. No. 884 AN ACT REDUCING TRANSPORTATION-RELATED CARBON EMISSIONS
H.B. No. 6441 AN ACT CONCERNING CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION
H.B. No. 6551 (RAISED) AN ACT CONCERNING ENVIRONMENTAL AIR QUALITY

These documents can also be accessed via Legislative Document Search.

Hearing Info:

Environment Committee Public Hearing Monday, March 8 at 10:00 AM via Zoom Watch the Hearing Live on YouTube

The public hearing may be recorded and broadcast live on CT-N.com. Individuals who wish to testify via Zoom must register using the On-line Testimony Registration Form.

Registration will close on Sunday, March 7, 2021 at 3:00 P.M. Speaker order of approved registrants will be listed in a randomized order and posted on the Environment Committee website on Sunday, March 7, 2021 at 8:00 P.M. under Public Hearing Testimony.

If you do not have internet access, you may provide testimony via telephone. To register to testify by phone, call the Phone Registrant Line at (860) 240-0431 to leave your contact information.

Please email written testimony to envtestimony@cga.ct.gov in Word or PDF format.

Testimony should clearly state testifier name and related bill number(s).  The Committee requests that testimony be limited to matters related to the items on the Agenda.

The first hour of the hearing is reserved for Constitutional Officers, Chief Elected Municipal Officials, State Agency Heads and Legislators.  Speakers will be limited to three minutes of testimony.  The Committee encourages witnesses to submit a written statement and to condense oral testimony to a summary of that statement. All public hearing testimony, written and spoken, is public information.  As such, it will be made available on the CGA website and indexed by internet search engines.

Republican Leaders Press Executive Branch to Probe Port Authority

by Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford)

Connecticut Senate Republican lawmakers are calling on the governor and attorney
general to probe controversies at the Connecticut Port Authority (CPA).

“While we in the legislative branch will continue pressing for policy reforms which make CPA more transparent and accountable, we urge the Executive Branch to conduct its own review of CPA,” Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) and Senate Republican Leader Pro Tempore Paul Formica (R-East Lyme) wrote in a Feb. 16 letter (attached) to Gov. Ned Lamont and Attorney General William Tong. “Another CPA contract is creating public controversy. That contract is an alleged May 2018 agreement with a subsidiary of Seabury Capital Group to manage the process of finding an operator for State Pier in New London.”

The lawmakers said that “a thorough probe by the Attorney General’s office… we feel, would send a strong and positive signal to middle class families of Connecticut that the Executive Branch values their tax dollars.  An Executive Branch-led review of CPA practices will show that potential systemic problems at any state taxpayer-funded government agency will receive a comprehensive examination.  Your findings could also lead to additional legislative reforms aimed at creating more transparency and accountability at CPA.”

Sens. Kelly and Formica noted in their letter that in April 2019, former Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano wrote to Gov. Lamont and Attorney General Tong asking for an immediate review of “every bid and every contract signed by the Connecticut Port Authority since its establishment.” That request was denied.

Update for 120th District and Draft Letter for Sterling House Funding

by State Representative Philip L. Young III
Assistant Majority Whip

A major bill that I am championing, (HB 5570) will affect change in how we look at, diagnose and find cures for diseases in the U.S. This is likely to be a major focus for me for the next few years. Proposed H.B. No. 5570, Session Year 2021

AN ACT AUTHORIZING THE STATE TO ENTER INTO A MULTISTATE COMPACT TO WORK TOWARD DEVELOPING CURES FOR MAJOR DISEASES.

Purpose: To incentivize investment in medical research toward cures for disease rather than treatment of disease and to share taxpayer savings in money and bodily treasure. Bill was referred to Joint Committee on Public Health on January 26 th , 2021. Next step for the bill is to schedule for public hearings. I am also a co-sponsor of Proposed S.B. No. 55, Session Year 2021.

DESIGNATING RACISM AS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS IN THE STATE AND ESTABLISHING A COMMISSION TO STUDY THE IMPACT OF INSTITUTIONAL RACISM ON PUBLIC HEALTH.

Purpose is to designate racism as a public health crisis in the state and establish a commission to study the impact of institutional racism on public health. Bill was referred to Joint Committee on Public Health on January 8th , 2021.


February 1, 2021

Dear Governor Lamont,

I write to ask for your support in helping to rebuild one of our cherished institutions in Stratford, the Sterling House Community Center, that has provided support services to our community for generations. Without the support of the Bond Commission, I worry that this landmark will no longer be able to maintain its food pantry and other services like after school care for the community. This is the first time in your governorship that I have made such a request, showing my great concern for the physical health for the “Heart” of my community.

The Sterling House building was constructed in 1886, when it was built by one of the oldest and wealthiest families in Stratford. In 1931, the building was gifted to the town and the Sterling House Community Center was founded a year later. Since then, Sterling House has touched thousands of lives providing a preschool, after school, summer camp, food pantry, and adult programs. During the pandemic, the organization stepped up to deliver food to seniors, provide 10 weeks of youth summer camp, organize leaf raking and snow shoveling, as well as many other services.

However, the physical structure is in dire need of repair. Many parts of the original structure have never been replaced or updated since the original construction. The roof, chimney, gutters, windows and doors need refurbishment and restoration. In addition, extensive work is needed to repair interior rooms that have been water damaged. Without these repairs, Sterling House will be forced to cut back on community services for lack of having a safe space to host activities.

Total cost for the repairs should be less than $3 million. Sterling House expects to raise about a third of the funds necessary from foundations and philanthropic donors. We are asking for $2 million in bond funds to support the project.

Thank you for your consideration of this project. If you or your team have any questions, or concerns, I am happy to get you over all of the information you need.

Sincerely,

Philip L. Young
State Representative 120th

cc: Matthew Ritter, Speaker of the House
Jason Rojas, House Majority Leader
Sean Scanlon, House Co-Chair Finance Revenue and Bonding
Pat Billie Miller, House Co-Chair Bonding Subcommittee
Paul Mounds, Chief of Staff Governor Lamont
Melisa McCaw, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Budget

Statement Concerning the Renewal of Governor Ned Lamont’s Emergency Powers

by State Representative Joe Gresko (D)
House District 121

“Connecticut’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is greater than any one branch of government. These are unprecedented times, which necessitates a response that is collaborative and leverages every possible resource to ensure the best outcomes. The emergency declaration allows our state to maintain its swift and effective response and remain eligible for federal aid. Parts of the latest federal relief package actually require states to have an active emergency declaration in order to receive funding. Ending the emergency declaration prematurely could result in the loss of vital aid that directly benefits residents, our small businesses, and schools.

“The declaration has also enabled state leaders to efficiently distribute the COVID-19 vaccine and ramp up testing, safeguard access to healthcare, education for all students, and take steps to rebuild the state economy. On Thursday, our state was ranked among the top three states in the nation for its vaccine administration efforts.

“With the Connecticut General Assembly in session, we can pass legislation overriding controversial executive orders, and we will continue to scrutinize the Governor’s renewal of the emergency declaration as well as every executive order signed. The emergency powers also allow the legislature to address the long-term issues the pandemic has exposed. Legislative leaders have been in constant communication with the governor’s office and have been involved in the process every step of the way. This will be an ongoing discussion as the COVID-19 situation in Connecticut evolves. I invite constituents who have questions or concerns to contact me to discuss them.”

Members of the public can reach out to Rep. Gresko by emailing Joseph.Gresko@cga.ct.gov or by calling 860-240-8585.