Battle over Fairfield Election Day voting location heading to court
Updated 6:06 pm, Monday, October 24, 2016
FAIRFIELD — A disagreement over the location for Election Day registration and voting is headed to court.
Under state statutes, both registrars must agree on a location for the EDR. About a year ago, emails show Republican Roger Autuori agreed to Democrat Matthew Waggner’s preferred location on the Fairfield University campus, in exchange for counting absentee ballots at one central location, rather than at each polling place.
That agreement recently fell apart, prompting the Secretary of the State’s office to step in, as it readies the publication of the EDRs in each community.
An email from Peggy Reeves, director of elections, to Waggner and Autuori just minutes before 5 p.m. Monday said if there was no agreement by the close of business she intended to formally refer the matter, immediately, to the Attorney General.
“Upon receipt of that referral, the Attorney General’s office will be preparing a complaint tonight against both registrars of voters, Matt Waggner and Roger Autuori,” the email states. The two can expect to be served with that complaint by state marshal either Tuesday or Wednesday, with a court date in state Superior Court in Hartford either Oct. 28 or Oct. 31 for a show cause hearing.
They should plan election preparations “around this potential litigation,” Reeves said.
First Selectman Mike Tetreau, who had encouraged the two to resolve their differences, said protecting the right to vote is something people have fought and died for over the years. “Our two registrars seem to have forgotten their duties to do everything they can to protect the voters of our town,” Tetreau said. “If they took an oath upon taking office, they are not living up to their oath of office.”
Tetreau said the two are wasting taxpayer money with this figh.
In an email Friday, Reeves advised the registrars of the possibility of a court ballte and wrote: “We are writing to advise you that if the deadline conveyed herein and on Oct. 19 is not met, the Office of the Attorney General stands ready to bring an appropriate legal action to enforce our directive. It is within the voting public's interest to have this resolved with no delay.”
Reeves had originally indicated the EDR would default to town hall, if no agreement was reached. When election day registration was first instituted in 2013 — allowing residents to both register and cast a ballot on election day — Old Town Hall was used as the location. In 2014 and 2015, the conference room in Sullivan-Independence Hall was used.
Waggner chose Fairfield University campus on the assumption that many of the last-minute voters needing to register would be college students.
“I am in receipt of two messages this morning,” Waggner wrote in an email Friday to Reeves, “with Roger declaring that he would prefer to abdicate his duties than honor his agreement, and with Peggy declaring that the next stop is court. Ultimately, I think either is an acceptable path forward, especially since we have a soon-to-be elected Republican Deputy waiting in the wings ready to take office, and a newly minted registrar removal statute seemingly designed for scenarios where a sworn official declares that they will refuse to sign forms or hire pollworkers.”
Autuori, on Thursday, sent out his own email, outlining his reasons for no longer supporting the Fairfield University location. Waggner, he said, misrepresented himself when he approached the university about hosting the EDR and “never conferred with me on any discussions or plans with the university.”
He said there is no means of getting remote access for the voter registration system as required by statutes and Waggner “lied that the site ‘We filed tested accessing CVRS offsite last week and all was in order.’” Autuori also claims that Waggner fabricated a photo of a laptop in the campus student center showing the Connecticut Voter Registration System home page “that allegedly was the test when it was actually done the following week.”
To get the photo, Autuori said, Wagger obtained an unauthorized account for remote access and “falsely posted on the town web site that EDR was at Fairfield University without conferring with me.”
Waggner, of course, disputes Autuori’s assertions. “On receipt of Roger's request, I checked out a town laptop, contacted my Deputy, and we conducted a second field test, with a photograph of CVRS functioning at the University location sent to Roger as evidence that the system was operational,” Waggner said. “Despite his claims, no evidence was fabricated, he has a photograph of the system functioning from our second field test.”
Rather, Waggner said, the fabrications are Autuori’s. “The stated list of reasons for not following our agreement are a mix of fabrications, misrepresentations, and ad hominem attacks, and while I can take whatever is thrown at me, I believe it is wholly inappropriate to inflict chaos on our election proceedings more than a year after our agreement took effect (recall that I performed a substantial share of my obligations under this agreement in 2015) and less than a month before voting occurs,” Waggner said. “Tens of thousands of Fairfield residents have received notice of our agreed-upon site, and many will have made plans in reliance on that information.”
On Friday,Tetreau wrote to both Autuori and Waggner, urging them to find a resolution to their disagreement and avoid a court appearance.
“I really hope we can avoid this and not waste further taxpayer funds,” Tetreau said. “You both were elected and are being paid to work together by Fairfield voters. It is time to step forward, meet your obligations and earn your pay. There are a lot of state and town people spending time on this issue.”
The two registrars currently work out of separate offices in Old Town Hall because of conflicts between the two. In October, 2013, Waggner had Autuori arrested, after he alleged Autuori pushed and slapped him during a disagreement over the handling of electronic scanners. Autuori was charged with breach of peace and granted accelerated rehabilitation, a form of adult probation.
The two were then given separate offices — Waggner on the first floor, and Autuori on the second floor in Old Town Hall.
In 2014, Autuori called police to report that Waggner kept removing a sign outside the first-floor office indicating Autuori’s office on the second floor. Waggner called the Public Works Department because he said Autuori was gluing the sign to the wall.