“Opinion: Want a Nonpartisan Board of Ed?”

November 1, 2015

Unaffiliated voters account for nearly 37 percent of registered voters in Stamford, only 3 percent less than the largest group. Connecticut has 42 percent unaffiliated registered voters statewide. Thus, it’s clear voters are not sold on the purely partisan approach which currently has a stranglehold on our government. Voters often mention they’ve registered with a party because they want to vote in the primaries.

At a recent League of Women Voters of CT forum, Lorraine Minnite, author of “The Myth of Voter Fraud,” said “The voter registration process is plagued by two problems: paperwork and parties.” First, she noted that we are held back by a lack of digital technology solutions within the voter registration process. Connecticut has made significant progress in this area recently with online voter registration. Secondly, she emphasized party politics are hurting nonpartisan efforts for voter registration improvements.

In late August, the LWV of Stamford held a voter registration drive in front of Ferguson Library. We asked elected officials of all the local parties to come out to show united support for voter registration. The response was incredibly encouraging; all three local party chairpersons attended, along with elected officials from local, state and federal levels. Everyone spoke up for nonpartisan support of voter registration.

Here’s the lesson: if you make a nonpartisan space, elected officials (and candidates) can step into it. We voters need to show them that we support that space and expect them to support it too. So if you complain about worsening partisanship, look past the party of the candidates and listen to their ideas. If we, as voters, demand that our elected officials remain in a strictly party box, then that is where they will stay.

Nonpartisanship is particularly important to the Board of Education. I recently attended a search firm’s focus group to discuss qualities needed in a new superintendent. Unsurprisingly, everyone agreed that politics should be left at the door when finding solutions that will improve our public schools. The search firm mentioned that partisan Boards of Education require additional skills to manage and could potentially eliminate otherwise qualified candidates.

Did you know that many states and municipalities create nonpartisan Boards of Education? A nonpartisan election for Board of Education would not show candidates’ parties on the ballot. Perhaps Stamford should consider this in the future. As for now, we have the power to elect a nonpartisan board, if we choose to vote based on ideas, not party.

Political parties play a significant and important role in our election process. However, as president of your local LWV, a nonpartisan political grassroots group focused on voter engagement and education, I urge you to consider a nonpartisan approach in choosing our Board of Education. Look past party affiliation and determine who has the skills and demeanor to best represent us. Find more information on the candidates in our Voter’s Guide at www.stamfordelections.com.

Wendy Skratt is president of the Stamford chapter of the League of Women Voters.