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Democracy in Action

Hartford Public Library

Innovation Leader: Richard Frieder, Associate Librarian for Community Development and Civic Services, rfrieder@hplct.org

Problem Statement

The Hartford community needed a center for civic engagement focusing on participation in the democratic process. Hartford historically has had among the lowest voter turnout rates in the state. Information about local elections was limited. There has often been widespread confusion about important issues such as the role of town committees and the state of campaign finance reform. Participation in the City’s boards and commissions has been less than it should be.

Innovation

The Hartford Public Library initiated Democracy in Action (DIA) in 2006. DIA includes a variety of programs and activities such as voter registration events, voter education programs, candidate forums, youth programs, and other activities. Three Library locations also serve as polling places on Election Day. Many of these activities are co-sponsored by the Hartford Votes~Hartford Vota Coalition, which was formed in 2009 and is coordinated by the Library. The Coalition includes thirteen non-partisan, non-profit organizations dedicated to increasing voter turnout in Hartford. A number of candidate forums have been held, as well as programs on immigrants and voting, the role of town committees and political parties, campaign finance reform, the State Constitutional Convention, City of Hartford charter reform, City of Hartford boards and commissions, and Banned Books. In addition, four Youth Making an Impact programs have been held, highlighting youth civic engagement in Hartford.

Progress

Attendance at DIA programs has been uniformly high, ranging from 50 – 250. Many DIA programs are videotaped and aired on local public access TV and made available on the library’s web site, thereby reaching many more people. DIA has been a major contributor to the availability of more information at election time, particularly for local elections and on specific issues such as the role of town committees. Voter turnout is a complex issue and it is too soon to know whether DIA is making a significant difference, but we will be attempting to measure progress in the future. As a result in large part of DIA, the Library has become known as the place in Hartford where democracy happens.