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Election Day Confusion?

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Stratford voters find it challenging to choose among multiple BOE candidates

By James Simon
Democratic Registrar of Voters

You arrive at your Stratford polling location November 7th, give your name and ID, receive a ballot and get ready to vote.

The first office listed is Town Council. If you are in Voting District 1, you go down Column 1 and pick between Democratic candidate Rachel S. Rusnak on Row A or Republican Thomas “Bryan” O’Connor on Row B.

That’s easy enough.

Then you go on to Office 2 on the ballot, Board of Education. You are ready to pick between Democrat Christopher J. Cormier on Row A and Republican Alec F. Voccola on Row B.

Or do you?

Some Stratford voters complain that the town uses a confusing system to elect offices like Board of Education (and Constable) that have multiple candidates vying for multiple seats. Crier readers have told the editors that they are always afraid they are not voting properly for BOE.

This year there are three Democrats and three Republicans seeking the three available BOE seats. Sounds simple.

But if you just glance at the ballot, you might think – incorrectly – that each of the six is paired off with one specific opponent. In Column 2, it looks like it is Cormier vs. Voccola. In Column 3, it is Jill D’Angelo-Powers and Kim Murphy. In Column 4, it is Celeste D. Burnett vs. William “Bill” O’Brien Jr.

But you actually can vote for up to three BOE candidates, regardless of how they appear on the BOE ballot

There is language on top of the columns that says “BOARD OF EDUCATION/ Vote For Up To Three.” But candidates and political leaders say there is always the fear that voters will not see that instruction and assume the pairs of candidates are squaring off.

Again, voters can choose any three of the six names on the ballot, regardless of whether they are in Column 2, 3, or 4.

“How else would you do it?” asks Lou DeCilio, the Republican party chairman in Stratford (and elected GOP Registrar of Voters). “Some voters also feel they must fill in at least one candidate in each column or their vote won’t count. That’s a misconception, too; a voter can vote for just one candidate anywhere on the ballot and the ballot will be counted properly.”

He noted other municipalities use the same approach.

The Democratic Party Chair, Kathleen Callahan, is on the ballot as a Town Council candidate in District 10 (Second Hill Lane), so the issue is very timely to her as she talks to potential voters.

“As voters, we have the right to choose. Not just who, but in cases where there are multiple candidates, how many,” Callahan said. “When there are multiple openings, there will never be more candidates listed in a row than available for you to vote. Town Council and land board races are individual, while Board of Education and Constables are town-wide – and I remind voters that ‘vote for up to’ means you have the right to vote for all.”

Once voters finish with the Board of Education, they go back to looking at just a pair of candidates for the next three positions: a Democrat against a Republican for vacancies on the Planning Commission, the Zoning Commission, and the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Then it’s back to a scramble as voters choose among six candidates running for four Constable positions.

In the BOE and Constable races, there is always concern that one candidate might benefit from having their name listed first, so the Registrars of Voters actually conduct a lottery to decide on the order of the candidate names on the ballot.

The BOE election has one final wrinkle: one political party cannot have more than five of the seven seats.

There are three Republican member of the BOE who are back for two more years, plus one Democrat. Even if the Republicans sweep the three available BOE seats, the Democrats’ top vote-getter would be elected – giving the Dems the minimum two seats — along with the two top Republican candidates.

WANT TO SEE YOUR BALLOT FOR THE NOVEMBER 7, 2023 ELECTION? Click here and go to the district/school where you vote.
Stratford Voting Locations
District Location Address
1 Lordship Elementary School 254 Crown St.
2 Stratford High School 245 King St.
3 Johnson House School 719 Birdseye St.
4 Franklin School 185 Barnum Ave.
5 Nichols School 396 Nichols Ave.
6 Wooster Middle School 150 Lincoln St.
7 Wilcoxson School 600 Wilcoxson Ave.
8 Chapel Street School 380 Chapel St.
9 Bunnell High School 1 Bulldog Lane
10 Second Hill Lane School 65 Second Hill Lane

James Simon is the elected Democratic Registrar of Voters in Stratford.

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