RTM, after partisan sniping, sets locations for polls
The Representative Town Meeting opted to adopt the Republican Registrar of Voters recommendations for four disputed polling sites at a meeting Monday that began in bipartisan fashion, but ended with party-line debate.
Republican Registrar Roger Autuori and his Democratic counterpart Matthew Waggner could not agree on the polling locations this year for Districts 1, 2, 6 and 7, which meant the decision defaulted to the legislative body.
There was no debate when Districts 1, 6 and 7 came up for a vote -- polls at Dwight, McKinley and Holland Hill schools, which were all Autuori's choices -- were approved unanimously by RTM members.
The sticking point was District 2, where Waggner had recommended the polls be at North Stratfield School and Autuori suggested St. Pius School. St. Pius was ultimately chosen, with Democrats casting "no" votes. St. Pius was approved 23-13, with two abstentions.
Majority Leader Ed Bateson Jr., R-3, said while sites at both North Stratfield and St. Pius could be considered suitable, St. Pius was more convenient to voters in the newly configured District 2, even though it is located outside of the district. North Stratfield is within the district's boundaries.
Town Attorney Stanton Lesser said the state statute says a polling location outside district boundaries can be used if there is no "existing, suitable" location.
Because of recent redistricting, the new District 2 encompasses voters from the former Districts 2, 4 and 7, with the largest percentage from District 7, according to figures provided by Waggner.
Bateson argued that more of the voters in the new district are used to voting at St. Pius, and the site would be easier for voters to get to on election day, compared to North Stratfield School, which was previously used as a polling place for the old District 7.
"We've been using it for years," Minority Leader Hal Schwartz, D-7, said, in reference to North Stratfield.
Waggner also provided data that stated the maximum distance from anywhere in the district to North Stratfield is 2.41 miles, while the maximum distance to St. Pius is 3.31 miles. The average distance to North Stratfield is 1.06 miles, according to Waggner, and 1.45 miles to St. Pius.
Bill Gerber, D-4, said Autuori was very transparent at the committee meetings, saying that he consulted with the Republican Town Committee leadership in determining polling places. "He made it clear it was political," Gerber said.
But Joe Palmer, R-4, disputed Gerber's take on Autuori's statements at committee meetings, and pointed out that the Democratic Town Committee Chairwoman Heather Dean is also a member of the RTM. "I'm not saying there's anything nefarious there, either. Maybe she shouldn't be voting on this, you could make a big stink about that. This hasn't been political on our side."
Asked if there was any cost to use St. Pius, which is not a town-owned building, Autuori said the practice has been the town has been given free use of the building for elections in exchange for the town providing picnic tables and barrels from the Department of Public Works at no charge for parish events.