To the editor,
I read with some curiosity Meghan McCloat’s recent letter about my office. I saw a variety of claims about how telling voters about a new statutory data privacy program is an “abuse of power,” but it’s not clear what benefit she thinks I would derive, personally or politically, from doing so: I am responding to years of constituent demands by sharing information about this new service, and committing to hundreds of hours of work to ensure Fairfield voters can take advantage of it.
Her allegations echo a view advanced by Fairfield’s Town Attorney last year that elected officials (and Registrars in particular) are legally prohibited from doing literally anything that is not specifically required of them in statute. When he told us this, I asked him where it said the First Selectwoman could send email newsletters, then I asked him if I was allowed to answer the telephone, or if I could tell voters about their polling place being changed (none of which are in statute.)
I was and remain skeptical of this legal theory. But I’m open to the possibility that there’s a law or court case that says this, so I asked. I asked Town Attorney Baldwin. I asked an attorney with the state who privately conveyed to him that she agreed. And when neither of them could give any support or justification for this claim, I asked other attorneys I know locally as well.
I want to point out that the people writing these laws know how to restrict who can send out specific notices or forms, or to require disclaimer text. Absentee ballot application rules do both, but these kinds of restrictions aren’t in this privacy program.
Now about those postcards. We get a lot of complaints from voters that their information is online, and when the state passed a law allowing people concerned about this to have their name and address hidden from disclosure, I knew many of our voters would be interested. I wrote to the Secretary of the State’s office about it (they didn’t respond, but this is normal) and put it in the budget.
But how many people would be interested? To budget, we did a test mailing (answer: about 30%.) My Republican colleagues helped stuff the envelopes and selected the voters we contacted. We posted about it on the town website. We kept a tally of the responses on a big white bulletin board. We highlighted it in the list of office initiatives in our annual budget, which was approved by the Republican Board of Selectmen and the Democratic Board of Finance and RTM. It was as far from a secret or illicit action as it is possible to be.
Plus, the mailing did cite the statute and quote the requirements for participating right above where people signed. It’s frustrating to have people who have looked at the document obtusely pretend that it doesn’t say what it clearly does say, and to live with months of their mock outrage. But I’ll attach what people were offered to sign here so readers can see for themselves.Postcard-Scan
One thing this letter – along with prior missives from Ms. McCloat – makes clear is that Fairfield and Connecticut, despite our genteel reputation, is not immune from the unfounded accusations and conspiracy theories that have swirled around the election process in recent years.
Just this week, court filings revealed that prominent cable news hosts knew their rigged election claims were false, a Georgia grand jury rejected the fraud and conspiracy claims around the 2020 election, and the Arizona Court of Appeals rejected famed election denier Kari Lake’s most recent demand to overturn the election she lost.
But these aren’t just situations happening “out there,” spread by an irrelevant fringe; local officials promoting conspiracies about rigged Dominion voting machines, swarming election workers to demand that they stop counting ballots, illegally seizing control of voting machines, and refusing to concede elections are all happening in our local communities already. Preventing our system from devolving into chaos requires more from our institutions, whether government or media or civic, than the naive assumption that these things can’t happen here.
Registrar of Voters