Norwalk registrar: You have to trust someone

Elsa Peterson Obuchowski counts votes Thursday night.

NORWALK, Conn. – It doesn’t matter to Norwalk’s registrars one bit if the wife of a candidate was helping to run a poll in Thursday’s Norwalk city-wide election, Assistant Democratic Registrar Bob Sodaro said Friday.

“It’s not us, it’s a party thing,” Sodaro said of the Town Committee elections held last week. The registrars are involved in the process because elections are what they do, but there are no specific rules, no regulations and no training for those involved in what is always a very small election, he said.

Events Thursday at Kendall Elementary School, where Democrats voted to elect Democratic Town Committee, have created a bit of a controversy. Kathleen Watts, wife of District A Chairman and DTC candidate David Watts, checked in voters and got involved in counting ballots. Some people have expressed an opinion that this was unfair.

“Would it have worked better if somebody who’s got a personal stake because their relative is on the ballot wasn’t taking ballots …? Yeah, that would have worked better for us,” Sodaro said. “But again, there’s no specific rule that prevents that. But there’s nothing we can do, its not our election, it’s the party’s election. We’re just officiating it. We’re officiating it mostly because, on some level, it’s the same with the taxing districts. They could run their own election, they don’t need us. But it’s more convenient.”

David Watts took time Friday to defend his wife, who, he said, stepped in at the last minute when an elderly woman who had volunteered to be the checker backed out because of the cold temperatures.

“My wife did a great job,” he said. Several people were turned away because they weren’t registered as Democrats, he said. They were people who came to vote for him, he said.

DTC instructions

Andy Garfunkel and David Watts count ballots Thursday as Elsa Peterson Obuchowski watches.

When the polls closed, David Watts and Andy Garfunkel took the ballots out of the box. They counted the ballots, but did not agree on a total.

At that point, those present wanted someone neutral to count them again. The only person there who wasn’t a candidate, other than this reporter, was Kathleen Watts. She did it.

Watts read the votes aloud, and Garfunkel and others marked them on a sheet. The problem arose when Watts read the names too fast. Several people making the marks could not keep up with him, causing confusion. Garfunkel asked him several times to slow down. He did not.

There were 43 ballots cast. The winning candidates were never in question. The number of votes that Matt Miklave and Rosa Murray got was. Both are now endorsed candidates and will be on the DTC again if no one challenges the results.

Sodaro said he has heard of no one in any district who is considering doing that. They would need to have about 150 people (based on a percentage) sign a petition by Jan. 29 to make that happen.

There are only so many people you can call upon to help out in a town committee election, Sodaro said.

“It’s difficult to not have somebody who is associated with someone running for office because who are you going to get? Everybody knows everybody in town. You’ve got to have somebody,” he said.

Sometimes people help with elections in other districts, a swap, he said. An alternative might be to have Republicans run the Democrats election and vice versa, but that would hardly work, he said.

“You get silly after a while,” he said. “You’ve got to trust somebody.”

District A Democrats count 43 ballots Thursday in Kendall Elementary School.


5 responses to “Norwalk registrar: You have to trust someone”

  1. NorwalkVoter

    Watts is chair. It is his job to select non candidates to be checkers and count ballots. He failed to do his job. He wanted full control at the expense of fairness to all. He is a very poor leader. Wake up district A! Pay attention to this behavior. It extends to all his activities and bullying of others. Why are you so afraid to challenge him?

  2. dlauricella

    I just heard about this and am so disappointed that several entities, including the Registrar’s Office, did not feel that even the appearance of impropriety reduces credibility in the voting process, no matter how wonderful or helpful anyone is.

    Elections, at any level of government, (and for that matter, not-for-profits and churches)need to be as credible and well-run as possible.

    I hope all parties in Norwalk have Rules/Bylaws that avoid this kind of flap and if they don’t, they should consider it. It’s time that we review and amend party rules to disallow real or implied conflicts-of-interest…as well as on every level of governance.

    I plan to see if their are written guidelines at the Secretary of State’s Office and suggest changes.

  3. EveT

    While we’re at it, why not have all the DTC caucuses at a central location like the Republicans did at the Norwalk Inn? Every registered Democrat who wants to vote can simply show up, they don’t have to figure out what district they are in and where their district’s caucus will be held. If we had a more open process for electing DTC members, maybe we’d have better leadership in the Democratic party instead of just a lot of infighting.

  4. Robert J Sodaro

    Upon reading this article, I’d like to make a couple of thing clear, that might not have come across in my initial conversation with Nancy Chapman.

    Yes, it actually does matter to us who officiates at an election, but again, this was a Party election, not a General election, so the Registrar’s Office doesn’t actually have authority over it. The Registrar’s office doesn’t have any real authority over Party elections, and there apparently is no specific Party rule addressing who officiates at town committee elections as there is at the state and local level. I (both as Deputy Registrar and as a voter in Norwalk) would have preferred that relatives of a candidate for the DTC weren’t in charge of passing out ballots or counting votes during the DTC election.

    As I told Nancy, in a general election and/or primary when we have moderators or poll workers who are related to candidates on the ballot, we move those individuals to another district to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Should that have happened in the District A election? Absolutely, that it didn’t is something of a disappointment, especially as it should have occurred to the candidate that there might be an issue with such a move.

    I’m not casting aspersions against anyone, but again, as public officials, and people working in the public trust, our job is to not only avoid impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety. Thus, on some level, it doesn’t matter how qualified someone is for a task, what matters is what it appears to look like to others.

  5. WFM

    @Mr. Sodaro

    Do you remember the names of the people working the polls @West Rocks and Marvin School during Mayoral Primary?’

    I’m not casting aspersions against anyone, but again, as public officials, and people working in the public trust, our job is to not only avoid impropriety, but even the appearance of impropriety. Thus, on some level, it doesn’t matter how qualified someone is for a task, what matters is what it appears to look like to others.


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