Editorial: Minority representation

After an election in which Democratic representation on the Board of Selectmen was at stake, folks may wonder about Connecticut’s “minority representation” laws.

Minority representation rules say a single party may hold only so many seats on a given elected body — no more than four seats on a five-member board, or six seats on a nine-member commission. This can complicate and confuse election results. It can lead to situations where four candidates are competing for two seats, and winners are the first and third highest vote-getters, because seating the candidates with the first and second highest vote totals would put too many people from the same party on the board or commission.

That may seem unfair. The person with more votes should win, right?

And what’s the purpose, anyway?

Well, there are reasons.

Connecticut’s minority representation rules, though not perfect, serve important goals. One is simply balance — assuring a place for a different perspective, dissenting viewpoints. But equally important is the function of keeping the minority party — in Wilton the Democrats, but also the Republicans in New Haven — active and serious, ready with politically experienced officials to offer as an alternative should the majority party’s leaders mess up and need to be replaced.

In Wilton lately there’s been a catch. On the Board of Selectmen, minority representation has been achieved with first one and now two unaffiliated representatives and one Democrat. That is what put the Democrats’ position at risk, since the one Democrat, Dick Dubow, was not running for re-election. Oddly, unaffiliated voters in Wilton are in the majority, but the election of David Clune in 2015 and the defection of Michael Kaelin from Republican to unaffiliated last year meant no one party had more than its share of members on the Board of Selectmen, even without a Democrat.

The minority representation rules assure there’s real political space — board and commission seats — for people who aren’t part of the majority party and its political apparatus. That allows people with different party affiliations, and different outlooks, to win elections, function in office, show they can do a good job, and potentially rise to prominence and win higher offices in town.

That creates competitive elections, serious contests for top positions with people in power facing experienced challengers — not unheard-of warm bodies who become lambs to the political slaughter. With three “parties” represented, Wilton’s Board of Selectmen will continue to have diverse points of view expressed.

Minority representation allows dissenting voices to flourish, shine, and become reasonable alternatives. And that keeps the majority party from falling asleep at the wheel.