Bridgeport reminds of risks of absentee ballots
Bridgeport might not be Bridgeport without irregularities, improprieties or worse in its municipal elections. Connecticut state government might not be itself if it didn’t take too long to address breaches of integrity.
So only recently did the State Elections Enforcement Commission get around to the corruption in the 2019 Democratic primary in Bridgeport. Mayor Joe Ganim, who already had gone to federal prison for corruption but had managed to get elected again, won the primary in a close vote. Or at least Ganim won the absentee ballots by a 3-to-1 margin, just enough to offset the margin by which he lost among people who voted in person.
Whereupon Connecticut’s Hearst newspapers discovered that many absentee ballots in the primary had been distributed and collected improperly. Some may have been cast on behalf of people who didn't really vote at all.
While a lawsuit to nullify the result of the primary failed, the judge concluded that improprieties with the absentee ballots were substantial. Now, at last, the elections commission has asked the chief state’s attorney to consider criminal prosecution of three Ganim campaign workers who handled absentee ballots.
Prosecution so long after the primary seems unlikely. But at least the elections commission has reminded Connecticut, if only inadvertently, of something that will always be timely. That is, the more people are allowed to vote at a distance, through intermediaries, without appearing in person at a polling place and producing identification, the more corruption there will be.
This year, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Lamont signed legislation allowing voting not just on Election Day but also in the prior two weeks. Early voting will be done in person, so there’s little wrong with it except that it won’t start until the national election in 2024 and election officials will have had no experience with it, experience they should have been given in this year’s municipal elections, where participation will be small and mistakes would be much less damaging.
But the election next year will include a referendum on a state constitutional amendment to allow people to vote by absentee ballot without giving an authorized reason, like illness or absence from the state on Election Day. Most people might enjoy the convenience of voting without ever having to go to a polling place, but the “no excuse” absentee ballot amendment could Bridgeport-ize the whole state.
That is a bleak prospect, but there is hope. On Sept. 12, Bridgeport will have another Democratic primary for mayor and in November there will be the city's general election, and both may produce still more impropriety and raise more doubts about the absentee ballot amendment.
Time for overtime
Making work pay more than welfare should be a high objective of government, and the Biden administration may deliver on it soon. For the U.S. Labor Department proposes a big increase in the number of workers who must be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours per week.
Federal rules now exempt employers from paying overtime to salaried workers paid more than $35,568 annually. The proposed rule would raise that figure to $55,068 and periodically increase it for inflation.
Of course, Connecticut labor advocates support the proposal, and businesses oppose it. Inflation has hurt both sides badly. So state government, which long has been boasting about its supposed budget surplus while remaining full of extravagance, could ease the path to more overtime.
That is, state government could essentially reimburse businesses for some of the extra overtime expense by reducing their taxes. State government long has planned to repeal its 10% surcharge on its corporate income tax but instead this year extended the surcharge through 2025. With Connecticut lagging the country in economic growth, eliminating the surcharge is compelling.
Unfortunately, state government has found it more compelling to keep raising the compensation of its own employees. Work always pays more for them, but not so much for those in the private sector.
Chris Powell is a Conneticut-based syndicated columnist.
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