Norwalk Democratic registrar defends office from ‘so many people’ charge

Norwalk Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells talks about voting districts last week in City Hall.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

NORWALK, Conn. – Despite the hoopla before Tuesday’s primary election drawing attention to Norwalk polling locations there were people who still went to the wrong places, a Republican poll worker said.

You would have to spend a lot of money if you wanted to try to prevent this, Democratic Registrar Stuart Wells said.

The information about confused voters came from Judy Somers, Republican ballot clerk at West Rocks School.

“We had so many people show up there that should have been at Wolfpit or Tracey that were never informed that their voting place had changed at all,” Somers said Tuesday night. “Some of them were very nice about it. They said, ‘OK.’ Some of them were so pissed, they said, ‘They want to know why people don’t vote.’ They were very upset people.”

One third of Norwalk voters go to different places to vote for state elections (even years) and municipal elections (odd years), Wells said.

“We have asked for money to send each voter a notice every year for the general election, but 1) this is not cheap, 2) the voters might throw the notice away if the Post Office actually delivers it, and 3) wouldn’t help for a primary election because we would have to have the money for an additional notice. When the BET (Board of Estimate and Taxation) comes up with the money for the recent primary, I’ll see if there is still enough left over for a notice for November,” Wells said in an email.

Wells was accused by former Republican Town Committee Chairman Art Scialabba of politicking last week after a press release went out calling attention to a mistake made by the campaign of John Federici, who wanted to replace Republican Registrar Karen Doyle Lyons, and announcing  press conference.

Wells made reference to the campaign mistake in his response to Somers’ comment.

“Political parties and candidates often put ‘you vote at’ messages on their political literature. It costs them nothing, and might mean that the voter retains the literature rather than throwing it away, which is a plus for the candidate. This is very helpful, until, of course, they screw it up,” Wells wrote. “Our online look-up system is based on what we use in the office and we make it available to political parties and candidates. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only city or town in Connecticut that does this.”

State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) said there was at least one voter in his district who got erroneous information in a letter sent to him by the registrar’s office.

It turned out the man had moved, Morris said. The person who sent him a form letter notifying him of his voting place clicked a wrong box, sending him to the polling place for a municipal year, Morris said.

The problem, Morris said, was that poll workers didn’t help the voter. “Rather than just looking it up on the city website, they were ready to send him home,” Morris said. “… I’m glad he called me and we got that reconciled.”

Complicating the matter is the legislative redistricting that was done two years ago, Morris said. People who live across the street from him can no longer vote for him, he said. Some South Norwalk residents are confused and are leaving angry messages on Facebook, he said.

Redrawing the lines of legislative districts is mandated every 10 years. “In my opinion this was a lousy redistricting,” Morris said. The Rev. Joseph Clemmons, who was the state representative for the 140th District from 1997 to 2003, no longer lives in the 140th District although he didn’t move, Morris said.

“It’s a tragic situation,” Morris said.

Municipal districts have not changed in 40 years, Wells said.

“Because of the differences in the state district lines vs the municipal district lines, and, in no small part, because of the Taxing District lines, it is not possible to have people vote in the same place every year with the current legal and cost structure,” Wells wrote. “UNLESS 1) we doubled the number of districts – which would double the cost of every election (not counting an initial outlay of about $200,000 for additional voting equipment, plus additional office staff and storage needs), or 2) used only one voting location – which would mean creating a large building, plus parking, with enough large rooms to accommodate 35,000 voters on Election Day – but might take care of what to do with that large open space south of I95, at least for one or two days a year. I might be wrong, but I doubt the Common Council would sign on for either of these options.”

More facts from Wells:

• There are 13 polling places for municipal elections and 12 for state elections

• Rowayton Elementary School, Brookside Elementary School and the back of Nathan Hale Middle School are used in municipal elections but not in state elections

• Wolfpit Elementary School and Roton Middle School are used in state elections but not in municipal elections

• There are 883 Republicans registered in State District 142C, which votes at West Rocks in state elections

• There are 1,557 Republicans in Municipal District D2, which votes at West Rocks in municipal elections

• Of the 1,557 Republicans who would have voted at West Rocks if this were a municipal year, 283 should vote at Tracey this year and 554 should vote at Wolfpit this year. Only 720 vote at West Rocks both years.

While the municipal districts are four decades old, last year registrars informed some voters that they had been voting in the wrong places, through no fault of their own.

“A small number of individual home addresses were assigned to the wrong voting municipal districts 40 years ago and had their districts corrected in time for the 2013 municipal election. All such voters were informed last year of those corrections in time for the municipal election. Most famous among them is (state Rep.) Chris Perone, whose address was incorrectly assigned to District D2, but is really in District A4,” Wells said.

Perone’s switch prompted a charge of conspiracy from Councilman David Watts (D-District A) last spring. Wells denied the charge.

One more comment from Wells about the expense that would be involved in thoroughly notifying voters: “We could, of course, publish a list of voters and their polling locations in the newspapers. The official check list is about 525 pages long. Publication costs are unknown.”


6 responses to “Norwalk Democratic registrar defends office from ‘so many people’ charge”

  1. Jane

    There’s gotta be a better way, than what we have now, an odd even hodgepodge matrix that even the informed find confusing. Just reading the article is confusing. “Of the 1,557 Republicans who would have voted at West Rocks if this were a municipal year, 283 should vote at Tracey this year and 554 should vote at Wolfpit this year. Only 720 vote at West Rocks both years.” Say what?

  2. Susan Wallerstein

    Besides mistakes and complaints specific to this year’s primary, the issues Bruce Morris raises are frankly “old business” and as a state legislator he and his colleagues control many of the gerrymandering – OOPS redistricting—decisions. Since lines need to be drawn somewhere, it happens that people who live across the street from each other vote in two different places. Such was the case when I used to live on Roosevelt St. Now on Wolfpit we’ve always had to vote in two different places depending on the type of election. But the worst was the state legislature’s decision to make sections of Wolfpit, Cranbury, East Norwalk and Westport part of WILTON’s 143rd – which means we basically lost state representation by someone who lives and pays taxes in Norwalk.

  3. Oldtimer

    We always had to vote in two different places, depending on if it was a national or municipal election and never heard a good explanation as to why this was necessary. It was not a serious inconvenience for us, but it seemed kind of silly and made it difficult for people with mobility problems as one place was Tracey school and the entrance for voting was by means of stairs.

  4. One and Done.

    1. Cut the rest of the useless staff that sits around doing nothing all year long in that office and use the money to mail notices to registered voters on where they vote.
    2. Cut it down to 1 polling place per district. Use the saved money to give people free vouchers to ride the empty wheel’s buses that we are paying for so at least they are moving people around while they destroy the environment.
    3. Move the primary date back to September when people are actually in town. Incumbent Democrats who moved it to August for their advantage won’t like it. But then, isn’t therein the problem right there?

  5. EveT

    How about using the emergency phone system (the one that’s used for hurricanes and blizzards) to announce something like “If you are unsure of your polling place for Tuesday’s election, go to the city of Norwalk web page http://www.xxxx and click on the even-numbered / odd-numbered year, or call the Registrar of Voters at (203) xxx-xxxx”

  6. Sunnie Kaplan

    One would think that people are intelligent enough to remember where they vote from election to election without having to be notified. It’s not as if it changes locations from year to year; it’s the same darn two places every time!

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