CT: City Hall scene of election day dispute

West Haven News: City Hall scene of election day dispute <read>

By Abbe Smith , Special to the News

WEST HAVEN – A heated dispute erupted at City Hall early Tuesday when Democratic Registrar of Voters candidate Michelle Hufcut – running unopposed – showed up at the designated polling station in apparent disregard of a state law that prohibits candidates from being near polls.
Police were eventually called to the scene to separate Hufcut and current Democratic Registrar Charles Marino in an effort to keep the confrontation between the two from escalating.
Hufcut defeated Marino in an August primary, but doesn’t take control of the office until January. She said she came to City Hall Tuesday with the intention of shadowing Republican Registrar of Voters JoAnn Callegari during the busy presidential election.
Although she ran unopposed in Tuesday’s municipal election, Hufcut’s name was on the ballot, making her a candidate.
“The law stipulates that 75 feet from any polling station, candidates must stay away,” Marino argued.
When Marino found Hufcut in the registrar’s office early Tuesday, he asked her to leave, citing the state law. When she refused, he called police, demanding that she be arrested or removed from the building.
Hufcut defended her presence at City Hall, arguing she was merely trying to get some training from Callegari in handling a large election. She noted that she was not campaigning at City Hall, as she is running unopposed for the office.
“I was simply there to observe and help,” she said, also noting that she was in a back office and not near the actual polls, which were in the basement of City Hall. Hufcut said she spoke to Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz about her plan to shadow a registrar and that Bysiewicz approved the plan.
Adam Joseph, spokesman for the secretary of the state, said he could not confirm whether Bysiewicz approved the plan. He said Marino and Callegari contacted Deputy Secretary of the State Lesley Mara about the situation and were told that it is “inappropriate” for Hufcut to be at the polling station on Election Day.

“We felt that because today is a presidential election, it would be best if she were not in the office,” he said. Mara also informed Marino that Hufcut was not in his office at the directive of Bysiewicz.

Marino said he called police and then he and his staff walked off the job for about two hours and refused to go back to work until Hufcut left the building. He said the absence did not affect voting or vote-counting in West Haven.

Police Officer Angelo Moscato confirmed that police responded to a call at City Hall Tuesday morning. Upon arrival, officers separated Marino and Hufcut and diffused the conflict. Hufcut eventually left the building, ending the dispute.

I inquired of Lesley Mara and she kindly pointed me to the law <9-326>

It seems to be true that in the law candidates are not allowed near the polling place except to vote, election officials (that includes registrars) being an exception. Perhaps a case could be made about where Ms. Hugcut was located, not being one of those excluded places, maybe not. Presumably, Mr. Marino and his staff saw no actual danger to voting with Ms. Hugcut in the building, out of their sight, since they left.

One of those cases where “the law is an ass”, likely an understandable obscure unanticipated consequence. Ironically Mr. Moreno was able to oversee his own primary with Ms. Hugcut, have unsupervised access to the ballots before and after the election, and lead the post-election audit of that election as well, all fully legal under the law – a substantial danger to election integrity and confidence, one that we would like to see changed.

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