Registrars have different views on Fairfield's slow vote count
Published 7:51 pm, Wednesday, November 5, 2014
It was after 9 p.m. on election night at Democratic headquarters on Commerce Drive, and still, there were no vote tallies from any of the town's 10 voting districts an hour after the polls had closed.
Soon, news surfaced that in District 1, the ballot-scanning machine had "gone down." Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Heather Dean urged candidates and their supporters to have patience.
Dean said that some absentee ballots were delivered late to their home voting districts, and those ballots needed to be scanned there for the complete count. Like her counterpart in the GOP, Dean was not happy. She said the issues had been reported to state authorities to enable them to investigate.
A few miles away at Flipside Burgers, where local Republicans were gathered, supporters and candidates were also becoming impatient.
Could the root of the problem, some speculated, be the bad blood between the two Registrars of Voters -- Democrat Matthew Waggner and Republican Roger Autuori?
The two no longer work out of the same office in old Town Hall, a separation enforced by town officials after Waggner had Autuori arrested shortly before the last election for allegedly assaulting him. This year, Autuori called police after he said Waggner kept ripping down a sign outside the first-floor registrars' office that indicated Autuori could be found on the second floor.
Autuori lays the blame at Waggner's feet.
He said "archaic" state election rules require that both registrars must agree on counting absentee ballots at one central location, which the town has done for several decades.
"Matt wanted it at the polls so he just held his breath and got his way," Autuori said, by claiming it would more efficient and less costly to count them in a central spot. "It was not, in either case," Autuori said. "That was mostly the reason for the lateness of the results coming in."
He said as long as the election laws remain the same "these problems will be the same next year."
Waggner said counting absentees at the polls is designed to save money, allow all ballots to be part of the state audit process and allow the town to report results more quickly. He said absentee ballots are usually exempt from the state audit.
"The results were finished at roughly the same time as in past years, though more time was spent at the polls and less in the absentee room," Waggner said. He said he expected that it would take each polling place about 30 minutes longer to return numbers, but it ended up closer to an hour.
It took even longer at District 1 because the scanner failed.
According to Waggner, counting absentees at Town Hall in the past has usually not finished until 1 or 2 a.m.
"I think that it would probably be a more satisfying and immediate experience for campaigns and political observers if we had the results tapes produced by a single machine rather than two, and if we simply had poll workers count the "last-arriving ballot" from Election Day registration by hand instead of waiting for a delivery to run the results" Waggner said.
He said if a new Representative Town Meeting redistricting plan is adopted, it could eliminate many issues arising from so many split voting districts.
"From my perspective, we succeeded on the financial and auditability sides of the equation, broke even on reporting time, and have a good idea of how to make concrete improvements next year," Waggner said.