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Montville Republican registrar criticized for social media posts

Montville — Republican Registrar Jeff Rogers is facing criticism from Democrats who say recent posts of his on Facebook page don’t befit the position of registrar.

On Sept. 15, Rogers shared a letter from Connecticut GOP Chair Ben Proto. Rogers’s post begins with: “PLEASE SHARE WITH EVERYONE...DEMOCRATS ARE PUSHING A CIVIL WAR!!” The rest of the letter criticized Gov. Ned Lamont’s COVID-19 policies, at one point comparing them to the actions of a dictator.

Two other Facebook post from Rogers, one on Aug. 11 and another on Aug. 15, were labeled as “false information” or “partly false information” by independent fact-checkers. Both posts advocated unverified theories related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Montville Town Council and Democratic Town Committee Chair Tim May said of Rogers, “When he’s quoting a guy about civil war and strife and payback and retribution and echoing (former President Donald) Trump lies, that’s just not good.”

“Every registrar I’ve ever worked with, their job is to make sure that people get to register to vote fairly and that the voter registration list is accurate. That’s it,” May said. “There’s no campaign to root for who you see as good or bad guys. Their job is to ensure accuracy and fairness. The letter that I saw doesn’t seem to really reflect that. I think he walked into this job trying to make it something it’s not.”

Rogers pushed back on criticism, saying he wears different hats as both the registrar of voters and also a state central representative from the 20th Senate District.

“I believe in free speech. To say under this hat you can say that and under that one you can’t, sounds like we’re trying to suppress free speech,” Rogers said, noting that he didn’t make any comment reflective of an election, election law or candidates. “What, am I not supposed to talk about rainbows and lollipops because I’m a political figure? I might like rainbows and lollipops. Am I not entitled because I hold a position where I can’t express my opinion?”

Rogers said he believes the registrar role is a nonpartisan position only in the aspect of carrying out the duties of a registrar, but otherwise, “The position is extremely partisan. If not, we wouldn’t have a Democrat and Republican registrar.”

In 2020, Rogers’ run for Republican registrar of voters led to a contentious primary between him and then-Republican Registrar Dana McFee.

McFee and others said at the time that Rogers is too partisan to be a registrar, a position that demands impartial arbitration of elections. McFee added that he works closely with Democratic Registrar Robin Marquand.

“If you’re a Republican and hate Democrats, or vice versa, you’re not going to work well in a registrar’s office, and the place turns into a mess,” McFee said.

In a letter published in The Day, McFee wrote that Rogers’ “abrasive nature and inability to act in a nonpolitical and nonpartisan (manner) would negatively impact the integrity of this office, which is so important in carrying out effective and impartial elections."

Rogers told The Day he “absolutely” views the role of registrar as a way to help the Republican Party.

“The most important part is getting people registered to vote,” he said at the time.

Marquand said Thursday that she’s worked well with Rogers. She didn’t comment on her counterpart’s posts in particular except to say, “I don’t do anything political on my personal social media page because I’ve always been under the understanding that this is a nonpartisan position.”

“We’ve had a very good working relationship in the last 10 months,” she said of Rogers. “There’s been no contention, no issues, no problems, he’s been very good to work with. He’s a hard worker. He’s very into the job. We have a very good working relationship.”

Rogers echoed Marquand, saying thus far, “Everything’s going fantastic. I’ve got a great counterpart, everything’s working phenomenally.”

But before he was elected, Marquand called some of the promises and statements Rogers had made as "very misleading to the public” and has corrected him on social media. At the time, Rogers stated he would work with social services, senior services and the town clerk to provide “admission forms” to the permanently disabled.

“What is an admission form? I’ve never heard of such a thing. Do you mean absentee voter applications?” Marquand asked. “Actually here at the Registrar of Voters office we do not handle absentee applications, regular or permanent ... the job belongs to the municipal clerk.”

“You also state, while participating in absentee voting administration, you will ensure no voter fraud, particularly if mail ballots are instituted,” Marquand wrote. “Sir, mail-in (absentee ballots) are always used in every election in the state of CT.”

Secretary of the State spokesperson Gabe Rosenberg offered a general statement on the controversy in Montville.

“One of the main focuses of our office since 2016 but particularly leading up to the 2020 election has been fighting election misinformation on social media,” he said Thursday. “For the most part, our partners in that are the local registrars of voters in both parties in all 169 towns in Connecticut.”

Rogers said he would not be amending his social media presence but has changed some of his conduct based on his new role. For example, he now shies away from commenting on local issues.

“I don’t care what Facebook marks or not,” he said of his posts labeled as misinformation by Facebook. “It’s a shared perspective. If people disagree with me, that’s their right to do that. I’m not looking for their validation.”

McFee said Thursday that he felt his prediction about how Rogers would handle his new position came to fruition.

“If your registrar is spewing this kind of nonsense, from a Democratic standpoint, I would be suspicious that he could do something in that office that would have an effect on a municipal election, which we have upcoming,” McFee said of Rogers’ “civil war” post, which the Montville Republican Town Committee later reposted.

“You’re there as a public service individual to help elections go over well, give information, and if it’s skewed one side or the other, you lose credibility,” McFee continued.

McFee said the last thing he did before leaving office was change his party affiliation to “unaffiliated.”

“It’s not necessarily because of the registrar role, it’s more so from the Big Lie and then January 6th,” he said. “If I had won and was still the registrar, after January 6th, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to maintain being a Republican under those circumstances. To me it was an embarrassment. And so many Republicans still believe in that. Montville Republicans kind of lean that way.”

Montville Republican Town Committee Chair Thomas McNally did not respond to a request for comment.

s.spinella@theday.com

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