Reimers discusses state league’s advocacy efforts and priorities

Former Wilton resident and League of Women Voters of Connecticut’s recently-elected president Carol Reimers was guest speaker at the Wilton League of Women Voters’ 2017 Opening Lunch Meeting at Comstock Community Center on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

About 20 people from Wilton and other nearby towns attended the meeting, where Reimers discussed the Connecticut league’s advocacy efforts and priorities, including the Citizens’ Election Program, National Popular Vote Compact and election integrity.

When it comes to advocacy, Reimers said she thinks people sometimes confuse “not supporting candidates or political parties with supporting issues.”

“As we often say, issues are not partisan. Issues are things that concern every single person,” she said.

“Some issues may be more visible because of partisan support or slant toward, but the basic issue has to affect everyone.”

Reimers said she and others in the League of Women Voters are “very proud” that the positions the league takes come from member studies, during which league members come to consensus on issues.

“As an organization, we take a stand on the issues our members have told us that they care about, and that is an important value of our organization, along with our non-partisan stand,” said Reimers.

“Part of our mission has long been to educate and promote through advocacy issues that are a concern to citizens of the country.”

Citizens’ Election Program

Connecticut’s Citizens’ Election Program (CEP), designed to limit big money in state politics, is one of the issues the Connecticut league has “really been focusing on,” said Reimers.

Unfortunately, Reimers said, the program was “totally eliminated” in the latest budget iteration.

“We were quite surprised by that because we had been having discussion with state officials about, at the very least, changing or tweaking it a little bit,” she said.

“I personally was astonished that it was completely eliminated.”

Because of that, Reimers said, the league is “urging a veto by the governor.”

“We know we’ve all been waiting for a budget, but we don’t want a budget that’s going to set us back, particularly in the area of campaign financing,” she said.

Reimers said CEP has been recognized as “one of the best campaign finance programs in the country” and is “a way for many candidates to have the opportunity to run for office.”

When it comes to public financing of campaigns, Reimers said, the league has three main goals:

  • To ensure the public’s right to know;

  • To combat corruption and undue influence;

  • To enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office.

“The Citizens’ Election Program, we feel, is doing that,” she said.

“We want to allow our candidates to compete without reliance on special interest money and create a more level playing field.”

Reimers said the elimination of CEP would be “a devastating blow to our state’s progress in sustaining permanent transparent government.”

Both Republican and Democratic candidates utilize the program, said Reimers.

“Nearly 80% participated in 2015,” she said, “and it was almost 100% in 2014.”

Reimers said studies have shown that CEP:

  • “Allows multiple candidates and elected officials to spend more time with their constituents;

  • Broadens the donor base to be more reflective of a diverse population;

  • Opens up the process to allow more people to run for office.”

“In short, we think it creates a stronger democracy for Connecticut,” said Reimers.

National Popular Vote

At its 2010 National Convention, the League of Women Voters of the United States amended its position on the Electoral College by adding the national popular vote as another method of electing the president.

In its official position, the league states that “direct-popular-vote method for electing the president and vice-president is essential to representative government” and believes the Electoral College “should be abolished.”

“There have been some bills that have been introduced in the Connecticut Legislature,” said Reimers, including the most recent House Bill No. 5434 (An Act Adopting the Interstate Compact to Elect the President of the United States by National Popular Vote).

“The act called for Connecticut to enter into an agreement among the states to elect the president by National Popular Vote,” she explained, “thereby committing the state’s votes in the Electoral College to the presidential candidate that wins the popular vote nationally — regardless of whether such presidential candidate wins the popular vote within the state.”

The bill “got through some committees,” said Reimers, and was ‘temporarily passed,’” but was ultimately killed.

Reimers said the league “has not been asked to support anything at this time.”

One of two men at the Wilton League of Women Voters meeting was Greenwich resident and National Popular Vote CT member Jonathan Perloe.

National Popular Vote CT is a grassroots group “calling for the Connecticut General Assembly to adopt the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact in its 2018 legislative session,” according to the group’s website.

Perloe said House Bill No. 5434 “unfortunately turned partisan because Republicans decided they did not want to support it — except for one representative.” He said there was also “a group of Democrats who were holding out.”

Perloe said National Popular Vote CT has a list of around 12 critiques of the National Popular Vote Compact.

“Some legislators have a concern that if Connecticut votes for the Republican candidate and the winner of the national popular vote is a Democratic candidate, and Connecticut therefore votes its elector to the Democratic candidate, that Connecticut has disenfranchised its voters,” he said.

“It’s sort of an odd position to hold because Connecticut doesn’t vote for the president — the people vote for the president.”

Election integrity

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was another issue the League of Women Voters of Connecticut took some action on this summer, said Reimers.

Around the time of the commission’s second meeting, Reimers said, the league sent a letter affirming its belief that “our democracy is stronger when all eligible voters can participate in our elections.”

“Unfortunately,” the letter stated, “this commission is already having an opposite impact by scaring Americans into deregistering and undermining the work of local election leaders.”

The league asked what the commission will do “to ensure that all eligible voters — particularly those from underrepresented communities, including first-time voters, new citizens, communities of color, the elderly and low-income Americans —  have the opportunity and the information to exercise their right to vote.”

Rather than “set up barriers to help keep select voters away from the polls,” the letter stated, “politicians should prioritize pro-voter reforms to modernize and secure our elections.”

Reimers said the Connecticut league will “remain vigilant” in order to “make sure that the rights of all voters are protected.’”

“Our public issues team is constantly monitoring and working with our coalition partners to represent the league at the general assembly and across the state,” she said.

Reimers said she believes it’s important for local leagues to think about issues are impacting their communities.

“Sometimes, we do such great voter service work, but we also need to sometimes be looking for those issues that are going to improve the lives of our neighbors and ourselves,” she said.

“I think the league needs to remain in the forefront of community activism if we are going to create a more perfect democracy.”

Click here to learn more about the League of Women Voters of Connecticut.