Volunteer Jim O’Brien, of Cheshire, wants older voters to get involved and ask questions of candidates. Photo by Emily Schiffer

By Natalie Missakian

Jim O’Brien recalls missing only one election in almost 50 years of voting, and the 69-year-old Cheshire resident knows he’s not alone among people his age in Connecticut.

“I’ve frequently talked to other AARP members whose voting records are as good as or better than mine,” said the AARP volunteer. Politicians know that “as a group, we go to the polls.”

AARP members could play a key role in the 2018 state elections. With Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy deciding not to run again, his seat is up for grabs in what is expected to be one of the country’s most-watched gubernatorial races, and several  contests are likely to decide who controls the state legislature.

Voters will also elect five U.S. House members and a senator.

With so much at stake, AARP Connecticut is emphasizing efforts to get out the vote, educate the public and engage candidates in state and federal races on issues crucial to people 50 and over, said John Erlingheuser, state advocacy director.

“This year we’re really going to put a lot of emphasis on not only our issues but on ensuring our members will turn out in a big way,” Erlingheuser said. “We want the candidates to know that our members and older voters matter and can make the difference in these elections.”

AARP does not endorse candidates, contribute to campaigns or favor parties. It wants whoever is elected to back issues its 600,000 state members care about, Erlingheuser said. “It’s the only way we can get done what we need to get done.”

The organization is mobilizing volunteers before the Aug. 14 primary and Nov. 6 general election to help host tele-town halls and ask questions of candidates at public events, according to Erlingheuser and O’Brien, who leads AARP’s election volunteers.

Look for Video Voter Guides

AARP will use social media and produce video voter guides featuring candidates’ answers to questions on issues such as financial security, caregiving and affordable utilities. Congressional candidates will be pressed on Social Security, Medicare and prescription drugs.

One of AARP’s top priorities is making sure the next governor continues the Connecticut Retirement Security Program, a state-assisted savings plan for private-sector employees.

Approved by state lawmakers in 2016, the program will allow roughly 600,000 workers without an employer-sponsored plan to save voluntarily in private investment funds through automatic payroll deductions. The program is currently being designed, and the rollout of savings accounts is expected to begin Jan. 1, 2019.

AARP will also be closely watching races for state comptroller and treasurer, since both sit on the board created to implement the program.

Another key election issue is support for unpaid family caregivers, who help loved ones remain in their homes. AARP will continue to push for paid family medical leave in Connecticut.

An AARP-backed bill that would have allowed eight weeks of leave for employees, funded through their own contributions, died in the legislature last year.

Christy Kovel, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter, said candidates need to talk about aging issues such as caregiving if they are serious about serving their constituencies.

“We are the seventh-oldest state,” Kovel said. She noted the number of state residents over 65 with Alzheimer’s is predicted to rise by 18 percent by 2025, and so will the need for caregivers.

“I think this election is a good opportunity to have a dialogue about the changing face of Connecticut,” she said.

Interested in volunteering? Contact Elaine Werner at 860-548-3165 or ewerner@aarp.org.

Natalie Missakian is a writer living in Cheshire, CT.