Registrars' rocky relations identified as prime source of local election problems
Updated 5:02 pm, Thursday, February 19, 2015
The town's Election Process Review Committee has come up with several recommendations to address problems reported in the last election, but the panel's chairwoman said the issue fundamentally is whether the two registrars of voters can get along.
Other problems reported in the balloting process in November's election that were investigated by the committee were long delays in reporting results, incorrect ballots and a vote-scanner breakdown.
But the source of many issues, according to the committee, can be attributed to the breakdown in relations between the registrars.
"I speak to both of you," Chairwoman Catherine Albin said at Tuesday's meeting, addressing Democratic Registrar Matthew Waggner and his Republican counterpart, Roger Autuori. "Actions are louder than words, and that's what I'm looking for; that the adults show up and do the work they're supposed to do."
Autuori and Waggner have been at odds for several years, and Autuori now works in a separate office in Old Town Hall. The registrars' rocky relationship erupted in a confrontation in which Autuori was charged with breach of peace as the two were preparing for the 2013 election. Waggner told police Autuori slapped him during that dispute. After Autuori was assigned a separate office as a way to avoid future tensions, he called police to report Waggner was tearing down signs directing voters to that second-floor office.
"These are two jobs, and while they are part-time jobs, they are important jobs," Albin said. "They come with a salary paid by taxpayer dollars."
And, she noted, while taxpayers pay the registrar salaries, they don't really have a say in their election -- each party nominates one candidate and both are guaranteed election to the post.
Waggner said he thinks the current situation, with the registrars in separate offices, is working out fine.
"We're able to serve our voters," he said. "I feel we do a good job in serving the public and being accessible to the public."
Given the reality, Waggner said, the situation is "very close to an ideal situation."
Autuori, however, said the situation is not the best.
"I don't know what they're doing downstairs," he said, adding he does the office payroll and doesn't know if people are actually there for the hours they say they are. "There are situations when people don't know I'm upstairs. That situation is not good; it's not been good since October 2013."
"Being together, I don't think is ever going to work until we both leave," Autuori said.
The two men don't really have face-to-face conversations, they told the committee, with Waggner saying he is "not comfortable doing that without other people present. I fear for my safety."
The committee is looking at recommending several options, including moving Autuori back downstairs and installing partitions between their work areas or staggering their work hours.
"I think we have identified some things that did fail because of communication," committee member Bryan Cafferelli said. "Namely, the training."
Apparently, each registrar conducted separate training classes for poll workers, something the committee said needs to change in order to make sure all poll workers receive the same instructions.
"There are things that can be fixed," Albin said. "This is the hardest one to fix, and there are only two people that can fix it."
The training issues, Albin said, lead back to the situation of friction between the two registrars.
"Their communication has broken down," she said.