To Change a City Charter, How Many Votes Is Enough?

Feb 20, 2014

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

How many people should have to vote to change a city's charter? 

That's a question being posed now at the state legislature. Last year, Hartford had some pretty significant reforms to its charter on the city's ballot. 

"A lot of it was anywhere from technical clean up to mayoral appointments," said Matt Ritter, a state representative and former city councilman. "There were salary increases in there for various city officials...and there was some really heavy stuff."

The kind of stuff for which you'd want a lot of input. The problem is that only about five percent of the city's voters actually turned out in November. That's because there wasn't a contested political race in the balance -- there was nothing to bring voters to the polls. Ritter says current state law mandates a 15 percent turnout for charter revision special elections, but doesn't do so for regular elections -- the theory being that people turn out for the latter.

But this time, they didn't. And Ritter wants to make it so that the 15 percent rule applies to all charter revisions in any election.

"What it will ensure," Ritter said, "is that you don't have a situation like we had in Hartford, where we had 1,000 perhaps forever altering the city constitution, and will make sure that there's at least a turnout that we all considered to be reasonable and somewhat representative, at least in part of the city to make substantial changes." The bill is now in the legislature's planning and development committee.