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CT SOTS Denise Merrill Wins An All-Time Franky

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s “Get Out the Vote” billboard graces an industrial street in New Haven, amongst many other places across the state.

With the first Tuesday in November quickly approaching, we must now turn to the mechanics of our republic: voting.

Is a picture of a middle-aged white woman plastered around the poorest parts of the state enough to get people out to participate in this ritual of self-governance? Probably not.

But Connecticut Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill, went ahead and put her picture on billboards across the state encouraging people to vote. The dozens of billboards only cost us taxpayers about $7,500 to $8,000, because much of the space was donated.

For this exercise in self-promotion, Merrill wins herself an “All-Time Franky.”  The 40-Year Plan has awarded “Frankies” to politicians who use the perks of office to promote themselves. Who can forget Eddie Perez’s four-color glossy mailers to all Hartford residents? Not me. Perez won multiple Frankies for these abominations.

Jon Lender of the Hartford Courant already reported on the mechanics of Merrill’s statewide “franking privilege”. The Courant editorial board already condemned her.  But what both left unasked was if Merrill’s picture will actually increase the number of voters in Connecticut.

Merrill’s spokesman Av Harris told me that I needed to ask Merrill if her shining visage is enough to motivate people to vote. Harris said she would get in touch with me, but she hasn’t called me back.

I wasn’t expecting a call, because it is kind of a difficult question – is it scientifically reasonable that your picture on one-third of a billboard, next to a few words that say “Vote on November 6th” are going to increase the voter participation rate in Connecticut? What led you to think your picture is enough to get people to vote, especially people in the inner city, who don’t look like you, and see just another white face of power?

There is no justification for doing this, and Denise Merrill knows it. Instead of her face, the space could have been used for information about voter registration deadlines or maybe even an inspirational picture of another voting rights advocate, one that people could learn from.

Like Fannie Lou Hamer, a woman beat to within an inch of her life in the 1960s fighting for the right to vote. Fannie Loue Hamer and her famous quote “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” might inspire people to vote, or at least learn about what others have gone through to get the right to vote.

But Denise Merrill, I’m not sure what she is famous for, other than biding enough time in the Democratic Party and the state legislature to rise to constitutional office. Certainly, Merrill isn’t famous for challenging power.

Merrill’s use of her own picture strikes of self-aggrandizement. Someone in her office had to tell her this was a bad idea, and she didn’t listen. It’s that power bubble, that I am elected and I know more than you. It smacks of ambition for an even higher office. Does Merrill want to run for governor or Senate? This is the same failure to make sound policy decisions that doomed Susan Bysiewicz.

Want to gain recognition, Secretary Merrill? Change  the way we vote. Less than 15 percent of the city of Hartford will choose its next mayor. Maybe 60 percent of the registered voters will vote in this presidential election in Hartford, perhaps 75 percent statewide. We need to have 100 percent of our eligible voters voting.

Merrill could submit laws to the legislature mandating voter registration and voter participation. Want to be a national figure, Secretary Merrill? Make the argument for mandatory voting like in Australia, with a mandatory none-of-the-above option. The right wingers will go nuts trying to figure out arguments against it.

Does mandatory voting impinge on our liberties to choose not to vote? But wait, the right wingers like mandatory selective service registration. So how do you take that apart? If the government can force us to buy health insurance and car insurance, surely it can force us to perpetuate self-governance, right?

Or submit a bill to the legislature for instant run-off voting, to allow for the growth of minor parties. If a progressive runs a third party campaign in 2014, Malloy will not win re-election, and then there will be the whole spoiler argument. So eliminate that argument and make the needed reforms.

These kinds of things will guarantee fame and name-recognition. Or, Secretary Merrill could submit a budget request to the legislature seeking enough funds to prepare for 100 percent participation in voting.

Our polling places are not set up to deal with the flood of voters. We don’t have enough machines. We don’t have enough poll workers. We don’t have the infrastructure to deal with it. Fund it, make it happen.

There are so many reforms Merrill could champion if she wanted to be better known. But those are difficult, challenging actions that take courage, and foresight and I don’t think Secretary Merrill has that kind of intestinal fortitude.

I’m willing to be proven wrong, but her billboard shows she wants the easy route, and avoids confrontation. Pick the path that makes your knees shake when you speak, and the world will shake with them.

Heck, I think people would love Merrill if she could guarantee us that all the votes will be counted. Connecticut doesn’t count write-in votes for president. So Green Party candidate Jill Stein will not be counted this year.

Merrill could read Victoria Collier’s article in Harper’s Magazine this month, entitled “How to Rig an Election” and understand the statistical anomaly that all voting irregularities in the United States tend to swing rightward. And she could fight against it.

From the election of unknown Republican Chuck Hagel in Nebraska as Senator in 1996 with 56 percent of the vote over a popular former governor, to Bush v. Gore, to Republican Saxby Chambliss  in Georgia ousting veteran Max Cleland in 2002.

Prior to running, Hagel owned Election Systems & Software, the voting machine company that counted 85 percent of Nebraska’s votes. Hagel won precincts that a Republican had never won before, including historically black areas.

The anomalies in Bush v. Gore in Florida in 2000, or even Bush v. Kerry in Ohio in 2004 are too much to recount here.  So let’s look at Senator Cleland, who a week before the election, was up in the polls by five points.  On election day, Cleland lost by seven points. A 12 point swing. That doesn’t happen.

Unless all the voting machines in Georgia are run by Diebold (which has since changed the name of its voting machine division), and days before the election the president of Diebold arrives in Georgia with a stack of memory cards to “patch” a system error regarding the clock. And the state of Georgia wasn’t to know about it.

I guarantee that in a week, we will have another slew of stories about this kind of thing happening – electronic voting machines not recording votes. Computers losing votes. Ireland just threw away all of their electronic voting machines – $70 million worth. Why? The Irish didn’t trust them.

So why do we? Especially with the record of fallibility, and the taboo that we are not to discuss the rightward swing of election fraud. We need someone like Merrill to champion these causes and ideas.

There is still time for redemption. There is an election to run. She can still prove her worth, and make herself a household name if she uses her position for good, and not cheap self-promotion. Fannie Lou Hamer is waiting.  Until then, Secretary Merrill is the proud owner of the rarely-awarded “All-Time Franky.”

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