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Norwich registrar questions former candidate's commitment to Democratic Party

Norwich - Former City Council candidate Ron Ward arrived home Thursday afternoon to find a strange notice taped to his door.

It was a summons to appear next Thursday at 3 p.m. before Norwich Democratic Registrar of Voters JoAnn Merolla-Martin and Democratic Town Committee Chairman Frank Manfredi in the registrar's office to defend his enrollment in the Democratic Party on city voter rolls.

Ward ran for office under the Norwich for Change party.

Citing state statutes, Merolla-Martin wrote: "I am of the opinion that you have not shown that you are in good faith a member of the Democratic Party. It is my belief that you have not intended to support the principles or candidates of the Democratic Party."

Ward knew that party leaders were discussing whether to remove him from his position on the Democratic Town Committee or from the party rolls, and he plans to challenge the move. Ward said he spoke with an attorney at the state Secretary of the State's office and was told he could take the matter to Superior Court if Merolla-Martin removes him from the party.

State statutes give the registrar of voters in a particular party the authority to remove someone from the party affiliation - making the person an unaffiliated voter - for a period of two years if the registrar deems the person "does not intend to support the principles or candidates of such party."

Merolla-Martin said in her opinion, Ward's actions showed he did not plan to support the party or its candidates. Ward had sought the party nomination for City Council but did not receive the endorsement. Rather than seek a party primary, he ran unsuccessfully under the Norwich for Change party label. That party was formed by Norwich businessman Harry Lawson for his 2001 mayoral run.

In 2009, Democrat Robert Zarnetske followed the same path. Merolla-Martin said she would have sought a hearing on Zarnetske's status in the party had she been the registrar at the time. She also believes U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman should not be a registered Democrat. "I've been a Democrat all my life," Ward said.

Ward said it is a waste of time and effort for party leaders to pursue removing him from the party.

He said he will just register as a Democrat again when the time expires and didn't rule out taking the matter to Superior Court to at least ask for a stay of the ruling through the 2012 party primaries.

"They may not like me, they may not like my politics, but every time they do something like this, it makes them look bad," Ward said.

c.bessette@theday.com

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