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End Ward witch hunt

If the seemingly universal criticism of her decision to try to strip activist Ron Ward of his Democratic affiliation is not enough to persuade registrar JoAnn Merolla-Martin to abandon this witch hunt, then the letter that recently arrived from Mr. Ward's new attorney should.

The Norwich Democratic registrar should not have undertaken this fight and if she persists she will not win. In the process Ms. Merolla-Martin could, however, cause Norwich Democrats further embarrassment and run up legal expenses, without a clear explanation of who will pay.

The better option is to terminate the proceeding. And during its coming 2012 session, the legislature should repeal the archaic law on which the registrar is basing her action against Mr. Ward.

A brief recap of how the matter got to this point is in order. Mr. Ward has pestered the Norwich City Council about what he considers a lack of attention to the Greeneville section. In particular he fought an unsuccessful effort to preserve the former Greeneville elementary school for reuse as a "learning center" for the densely developed, urban neighborhood. The council instead moved forward with a demolition plan.

During this process Mr. Ward fell out of favor with the Democratic Town Committee. An endorsed council candidate in 2009, Mr. Ward failed to gain the town committee endorsement for another council run in 2011. He then ran for the council, unsuccessfully, under the Norwich for Change banner created by a prior councilor in his foiled bid for mayor.

It is apparently for these grievous offenses that the registrar and Democratic Town Committee Chairman Frank Manfredi want to toss Mr. Ward from the party, leaving him an unaffiliated voter.

Mystic Attorney Andrew A. Feinstein, a Democrat, said he offered his services to Mr. Ward after reading about the case. He correctly characterizes it as a free speech issue. Party leaders should not be allowed to threaten individuals with expulsion because they disagree with those leaders or annoy them. As for the Norwich for Change label Mr. Ward ran under, it was simply a means for the candidate to have a platform for his views and no threat to the city's dominant Democratic Party.

At the hearing scheduled for Jan. 26, Mr. Feinstein is prepared to call a dozen witnesses to testify to Mr. Ward's fidelity to the Democratic Party. According to the statute, Mr. Ward only has to demonstrate a bona fide (genuine) intent to remain a Democrat.

Who will pay any legal costs associated with the registrar's effort? It's certainly not the city's responsibility. Is the local Democratic organization prepared to the pay the expense, which could be substantial if this ends up in the courts? We think not.

End this now and then repeal the law.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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