By Ken Krayeske • 1:05 AM EST
An active, passionate third-party registrar of voters in Hartford, a leader like Urania Petit, would be a boon to democracy.
Unfortunately, a heck of a lot more people read the Hartford Courant editorial page than this column, and a few weeks back, the sinking ship editorialists at America's oldest daily newspaper surmised that Urania Petit's candidacy for registrar was a systemic redundancy.
The editorial dismissed Petit's bid to become the Working Families Party registrar of voters without actually addressing the merits of the issues. So I beg you: Don't listen to the corporate hacks scribbling for the master's dimes. Urania Petit will bring effusive energy, excitement and new ideas to the registrar's office. She deserves your vote.
When not more than 20 percent of voters on average turn out for elections in Hartford, we have a sick system. Petit agrees. The two parties have failed utterly in their ability to create a healthy civic life here in the nation's poverty capital. Petit wants to see 70, 80 percent voting rates in Hartford.
And Petit has dozens of ideas to create a more accessible, voter-friendly democracy. Yet the Courant blindly clings to the tired notion that only the two parties can solve the problems they have created.
Petit said she thought the Courant was full of it, too. If the old system of two registrars of voters was working, Hartford would have a higher voter turnout.
"To all these people, I say look at the numbers, and tell me what you think," Petit said. "People are asking for a change, for representation, they want someone who will go out and work for us, not someone who will sit in an office all day. They are tired of that."
Petit said she is running to be an active registrar, and not just to register people for the WFP – an entity which at last count has 37 registered members in Connecticut, but elected officials and thousands of voters who elected them.
"I am not running just for the Working Families Party, I am running for everyone in Hartford," Petit said. "The registrar is a non-partisan office. My number one goal is to register people across the board. My goal is to educate them and get them to participate."
Petit ran for City Council last year, but lost. How is it that she can rebound and run this year? Easy. A professor humiliated her once, and the fire still burns.
"Voting has always been a passion of mine," she said. "I went to Southern Connecticut State University. We were talking about Bill Clinton and I remember telling this professor, saying people don't go out to vote because they don't know how to and he dismissed me and made me feel so bad. Part of me wants to run because people don't know how to vote. And I want to prove him wrong."
Petit enrolled in Southern after coming to Connecticut from St. Lucia at age 19. She learned community organizing from her mom, and the pride of St. Lucian politics runs in her blood.
"I grew up with members of my family running for office," she said. "At six years old, I knew I wanted to be a politician. I always tried to help people. Only in 2003 I found out what it is called: a political social worker – there was a name for what I wanted to be."
It is almost revolutionary in Hartford to approach political participation as a social worker.
"If you don't vote, you will never get out of poverty," Petit said. "You have to vote your values, otherwise the people in the suburbs will be making your decisions for you. We need to do it ourselves."
As it stands now, people in Hartford wrongly see poverty as an obstacle to participation, Petit said.
"Look at the islands, they are poor, but in St. Lucia, they have an 80 percent voting rate," Petit said.
In St. Lucia, signs on lawns in front of run-down shacks say 'Verified.' When people register the whole household to vote, they put a sign on their lawn so the next canvassers registering people will see this.
"This little shack has a sign that says 'Verified,' they are proud of it," Petit said. "They know that sign in their front lawn tells the politicians that 'you need my vote to make decisions in this country, and you have to pay attention to me.'"
Your vote does count, and people need to understand that, Petit said. To that end, she wants to enlist social services agencies to register their clients to vote. Imagine if CRT, OPP or Catholic Charities registered their clients.
"Only 40 percent of people receiving social services vote," Petit said. She reels off statistics about how low our annual voter registration rate is, and how she can fix it.
She wants to go into schools and colleges to find poll workers, so that people there now don't have to suffer through 14 hour shifts. She wants to enlist corporations to help in the election efforts.
"United Way has a day of caring, they go clean street corners. Election Day should be your day of caring," she said. "Why not run a class teaching people the importance of voting? Our quality of life would increase by voting."
She won't just stop at building partnerships, she wants to affect laws on a statewide basis.
"I plan to be at the Capital to work on the issues that affect these voters," she said. "I have testified in the past, on same day voter registration."
As for increasing the circle of rights in voting, Petit said that 16 year olds should probably be able to vote, but making voting mandatory, a duty, is too far.
"People would rebel," she said.
Her main focus is registering to vote is the first step towards political participation. If we don't teach people how to vote, how to educate themselves on the issues and how to participate, we will never have an active, healthy democracy.