New group wants to inform voters in Shelton

At the organizational meeting for the Shelton League of Women Voters, the group’s possible “goals,” “issues” and “activities” were written down on paper hung on a wall.
At the organizational meeting for the Shelton League of Women Voters, the group’s possible “goals,” “issues” and “activities” were written down on paper hung on a wall.

Kate Pipa recalled voting on a Shelton referendum question a few years ago but not really understanding the issue involved.

Erica Schwarz talked about wanting to know more about the candidates in this fall’s election and turning up little information.

Now the two women are joining forces to make sure Shelton voters don’t face similar dilemmas in the future.

Schwarz and Pipa are leading the effort to reactivate a League of Women Voters (LWV) in Shelton, and were joined by about 15 other interested individuals at an initial organizational meeting last week.

Laurel Anderson, who serves on the steering committee of the Bridgeport Area LWV organization that covers Shelton, spoke to the group.

Anderson said a local LWV can play an important role in “informing voters and making sure we have fair elections.” She said the group could print guides on elected officials and candidates, moderate candidate debates, help with voter registration drives, and issue reports on public policy issues.

‘Civics lesson’ for the community

Anderson has been involved with the LWV for a dozen years. “It’s really a great civics lesson we as a league are able to bring to the community,” she said.

“It’s very comforting to voters when they see your [LWV] pin,” Anderson said.

The LWV has a reputation for integrity, she said, and it’s important that the organization’s activities never be viewed as partisan. “Focus on issues and not specific officials and candidates,” Anderson said.

The league’s reputation for fairness has led to the LWV being selected to oversee student lotteries for entrance to regional magnet schools, she said.

Anderson said the league must have the trust of public officials and candidates to be effective. “They trust that we won’t torpedo them,” she said, noting the goal at election debates is to ask tough but even-handed questions.

Anderson serves as Democratic registrar of voters in Trumbull, but said she works hard to separate her LWV role from that of her elected position.

Informed and active

The LWV is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government and works to increase understanding of local public policy issues.

The LWV, which has both women and men as members, does not endorse candidates or political parties.

The Bridgeport Area LWV has been inactive in Shelton for many years, but has been vibrant in the four other communities it serves — Bridgeport, Monroe, Stratford, and Trumbull.

The regional LWV also sends representatives to new citizen ceremonies at the federal courthouse in Bridgeport. Members hand out small American flags and voter information material to the new citizens.

“It’s one of the most heartfelt things I’ve ever done in my life,” Anderson said of the experience.

Ideas for the future

Schwarz said the regional LWV has “an infrastructure” the Shelton group can tap into.

She had people at the Shelton meeting come with ideas in three categories — goals, issues and activities.

Some of the ideas included distributing an issues survey to residents; having an LWV presence at public gatherings such as the Huntington Green summer concerts and Shelton Day; holding information sessions with elected officials between elections; and getting high school civics class students involved in local issues.

More immediate goals will be formalizing the Shelton group and introducing it to local public officials, according to Schwarz.

She said perhaps the reactivated Shelton LWV could send a letter to elected officials or set up a meeting with them.

Anderson said having the LWV put on a debate with a sponsoring organization in the next mayoral election might be doable if the local chapter becomes established and gains credibility with candidates and the public.