In the last municipal election, some Wesleyan students charged that there was an attempt to disenfranchise them by making it difficult to vote. The students placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Republican incumbent mayor, Sebastian Giuliano. The student paper, The Argus, reported that a student was considering filing a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission (the SEEC).
Last week, the SEEC selected Giuliano as its new executive director.
Ben Florscheim, president of the Wesleyan Democrats, co-wrote the following letter to the SEEC, protesting Giuliano's appointment.
Friday, January 13, 2012
To Whom It May Concern:
We, as Wesleyan students and residents of the State of Connecticut who possess a legal right to vote in this jurisdiction, are extremely concerned by the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission’s pending appointment of Sebastian N. Giuliano as its executive director and general counsel. This concern stems from, but is not limited to, actions during his time as mayor of Middletown, which include the following:
•For decades prior to the November 2011 election, Wesleyan students registered to vote in Middletown using a campus PO box as their residency address. During his time as mayor, Mr. Giuliano did not question or object to this practice until faced with a close re-election campaign in 2011.
•This registration practice, which had been followed for decades, was suddenly questioned only after a large number of Wesleyan students registered to vote for the November 2011 election and had received confirmation of their registration from the registrar. Students had registered to vote in good faith following the practices that had been enforced by the registrar of voters for decades, including during Mr. Giuliano’s time in office.
•Less than two weeks before the election, there was a near rejection of almost 250 students’ voter registration applications. This happened despite the fact that the registrar had already accepted hundreds of other recent applications that included campus PO boxes as residency addresses.
•As a result of this sudden change in policy and practice, Wesleyan students witnessed the fracturing of their campus into five different voting districts in the last days before the elections.
•Hundreds of students whose voting location altered as a result of changes made by the registrars to their residential information were only notified the Friday before Election Day. This notification was limited to a misleading letter that had to be clarified by the Secretary of the State’s Office.
•During the supposed “suspension” of his campaign a few days before the election due to the October snowstorm, the former mayor was at the Wesleyan student center propagating misleading information to students about their eligibility to vote. He incorrectly stated that students who registered with a campus PO box and did not confirm their actual residency address in-person with the registrar could “come up empty” on Election Day.
•Perhaps most disturbing in light of his impending appointment, he squarely placed the blame of faulty registration practices on the students who registered in good faith and who followed the then applicable registration rules. This was done as opposed to holding registration and election officials responsible and accountable for doing their jobs properly.
•Mr. Giuliano repeatedly failed to demonstrate the type of leadership needed to ensure his constituents were provided accurate and information essential to their ability to exercise their right to vote. He also failed to publicly address the intimidating and misleading statements of Middletown police officer Tom Sebold and now-member of the Planning and Zoning Board, Molly Salafia. Both these individuals falsely claimed that Wesleyan students who registered to vote in Middletown would be subject to new taxes. Tom Sebold also seemed to threaten students with unwarranted legal consequences if they exercised their right to vote.
•As a result of the forgoing, a large number of students who registered in good faith and in accordance with historic registration and voting practices were led to believe they would be unable to vote in the November 2011 election.
Due to all of the above, it is extremely concerning to many students of Wesleyan University and arguably the entire State of Connecticut that Sebastian Giuliano has been selected for this position. If the SEEC’s mission is indeed to “ensure the integrity of the state’s electoral process,” we find it troublesome that it chose Mr. Giuliano as its senior official. He is a politician who stood for untimely changes in registration practices, lack of accountability towards officials who failed to properly do their job and inform voter applicants in a timely manner of errors in their registration forms, and the last minute fracturing of a group of his constituents.
Immediately after the November 2011 elections, numerous Wesleyan students had considered filing an official complaint with the SEEC against the mayor and other Middletown officials for their actions. Ultimately, they had decided not to do so in order to avoid any further conflicts. However, this recent appointment has caused many students to reconsider this decision, and a formal complaint is now being prepared.
The above concerns and complaints put forth are being raised not only for the benefit of Wesleyan students. They are being addressed for the benefit of all students in the state of Connecticut, who by law are eligible to vote in this state and should be able to do so without impediments, intimidation, or tolerance for misinformation from public servants and elected officials. Also, it goes without saying that this appointment is especially concerning when done on the eve of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the national holiday that celebrates civil rights – including voting rights.
If the SEEC truly stands by its mission, we strongly ask that its appointment of Sebastian N. Giuliano be reconsidered.
Gabriela De Golia and Benjamin Florsheim,
Concerned students of Wesleyan University and residents of Middletown, CT