GOP registrar of voters dies in Norwich

Norwich - Republican Registrar of Voters Gerald Kortfelt died Monday after a battle with cancer, city officials said Tuesday.

Kortfelt, a retired Norwich schoolteacher, had served as Republican registrar for 11 years. He was diagnosed with cancer in February, but continued in the position, working at the office when he could and later from home, Democratic Registrar JoAnn Merolla-Martin said.

Merolla-Martin was elected to her first term as registrar last November. She and Kortfelt worked together in the spring to consolidate the city's 10 voting precincts into five precincts, a move approved by the City Council this past summer. Merolla-Martin called Kortfelt "a good teacher," and said he was very supportive of her.

"He called here almost every single day," Merolla-Martin said. "He would say, 'I have complete confidence in you, but don't forget to do this and do this. And call me.' I did call him a lot."

Assistant Republican Registrar Dianne Slopak was sworn in Tuesday as registrar and will fill out the remainder of Kortfelt's term to the November 2012 election. The two served on the Republican Town Committee together for many years.

"I think the city has lost a wonderful person," Slopak said. "Gerry was very conscientious. He did a wonderful job."

Kortfelt survived a nomination challenge in May 2010, successfully campaigning for his position at the town committee nominating caucus. He countered critics who said he should have worked harder to register more voters as Republicans, insisting the office had a legal obligation to remain nonpolitical.

In 2007, former Democratic Registrar Nancy DePietro and Kortfelt each were fined $3,000 for mistakes in the fall 2006 election, when four mechanical voter machines were brought to the wrong voting districts. Norwich has two districts for state representative, and machines at two polling places had the names of candidates running in the other districts.

A similar mistake occurred in the 2010 election under the new paper ballot voting system when a pack of paper ballots was sent to the wrong state House voting district. The ballots were rejected by the new voting machines and votes were later hand counted.

Calling hours for Kortfelt will be Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Labenski Funeral Home, 107 Boswell Ave. The funeral will be Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Broadway.

c.bessette@theday.com

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