voting rights

Frustrated Voters Question Ban on Municipal Budget Votes

A Bethel town official has filed a federal complaint against the governor over an executive order banning in-person voting on town budgets.

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Some angry Connecticut voters believe coronavirus restrictions stripped them of their rights.

A series of executive orders by Gov. Ned Lamont to promote safety prohibited in-person voting on town budgets this spring, prompting some people to speak out, and fight back.

Doug Raitz of East Hampton spoke with NBC Connecticut Investigates as he got his firewood ready for the fall.

It looked like it helped him shake off his frustration over not voting on the town budget this year.

 “I still have the right to vote, and they have taken it away from me. I don’t like the fact that the fox is watching the henhouse.”

Raitz and thousands of others did not get to participate in an annual rite of spring in Connecticut - budget votes by a show of hands at town meetings, or referendum votes by machine.

“Give me the right to decide,” Raitz said.

Well over 100 Connecticut towns and cities had to cancel in-person budget votes following executive orders by Governor Lamont, in the name of safety due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We made the decision early on that this was probably not the way to go, to have a regular referendums and budget referendums,” said East Hampton town council Vice-chair Dean Markham.

The governor’s office said Connecticut cities and towns still must follow open meeting requirements so the public can access documents, can submit comments before or during a meeting, and can watch live.

“How 'bout mail-in votes?  How about you just put it off?” Raitz asked.

That’s essentially what neighboring states New York and Massachusetts did.

In the town of Vernon, leaders got innovative, getting drive through budget voting done before the governor’s executive orders took effect.

Across the state in Bethel, Board of Finance member Cynthia McCorkindale said her town abided by the executive order, and her board had the final say on the budget. 

“It’s taxation without representation.”

McCorkindale has filed a federal complaint against the Lamont administration over the prohibition of in-person budget voting.  NBC Connecticut has reached out to Lamont’s office for comment and it has not responded.

“Voting is a right that we have as citizens of the United States of America, and once you start tampering with that core, I think it’s dangerous and I think it’s wrong.  We’ll see what the Department of Justice says.”

Markham said consider this though: Even if towns did go forward with in-person voting, they might not have had enough volunteer poll workers ready to show up, because of coronavirus.  

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