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Complaints: Preston Town Hall polling place not handicapped accessible

Preston — The state Elections Enforcement Commission will investigate a complaint by former Republican Registrar Norman Gauthier that the Town Hall polling place is not handicapped accessible.

Gauthier filed two complaints to the state against Democratic Registrar Cheryl Roberts and Republican Registrar Desiree Majchier, because they have the authority to set the town polling place. Gauthier claimed the 1974 Town Hall with a long concrete sloped ramp to the lower level polling place does not meet the federal Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

“The town has several other sites that are accessible to physically disabled voters,” Gauthier wrote in the complaint.

Gauthier also sent a “Complaint and Request for Advocacy” to Disability Rights Connecticut Inc., the nonprofit agency hired by the state to oversee accessibility issues. In both complaints, Gauthier said after selecting a polling place that doesn't meet accessibility standards, the registrars failed to apply for a waiver to allow the noncompliant polling place.

“I request that Disability Rights Connecticut Inc. through its program for Protection and Advocacy for Voting Access provide education, guidance, and encouragement to the Preston registrars of voters to select a polling place that complies with the current standards for accessibility,” Gauthier wrote.

Prior to filing the complaints, Gauthier petitioned the issue to a town meeting held Sept. 13, where voters overwhelmingly rejected his proposal to move the polling place to the Preston Veterans’ Memorial School.

Gauthier said Thursday the complaints are part of his continuing effort to move the polling place. He did not seek punitive action by the Elections Enforcement Commission. “It is filed in order to get compliance,” he wrote in the complaint.

Gauthier's complaint came two months after Democratic Registrar Roberts had filed a complaint to the Elections Enforcement Commission against Gauthier and his son, Edward Gauthier, the deputy registrar at the time. Both Gauthiers resigned in summer.

In her complaint, Roberts alleged that Norman Gauthier went on vacation and failed to make arrangements for a Republican replacenent for the June 12 budget referendum.

First Selectman Robert Congdon had to call Republican Deputy Registrar Edward Gauthier to come to Town Hall, because officials from both parties were needed to retrieve absentee ballots from the town clerk's office. Edward Gauthier left at 4 p.m., and no Republican registrar certified the vote results, Roberts wrote.

Roberts also complained she had to handle the preparation of voting machines prior to the June 12 referendum without assistance from a Republican registrar.

The state Elections Enforcement Commission on Oct. 17 dismissed Roberts’ complaint against Gauthier, but only because Gauthier had resigned already, the commission wrote in its findings report.

“Indeed,” the commission report stated, “in consideration of Mr. Gauthier’s apparent failure to show up for the June 12, 2018, referendum and/or make arrangements for his deputy to act in his stead, had Mr. Gauthier not already left his post, the Commission would have referred this matter to the Secretary of the State under her authority in General Statutes 9-190c to consider if such alleged conduct constitutes ‘misconduct, willful and material neglect of duty or incompetence in the conduct of’ his office.”

Gauthier on Thursday said he hadn’t seen the election commission’s decision, but called Roberts’ complaint “frivolous.” He said he expected it to be dismissed.

Roberts countered that Gauthier’s complaint about the polling place was retaliation for her complaint. She said the town meeting decided the polling place issue. She said registrars offer curbside service to voters who request it.

Voters at the town meeting set up a committee of the two registrars, Selectman Mike Sinko and resident Jack Smallwood to study costs to upgrade the Town Hall ramp and alternative polling places. The committee hasn’t met yet.

Roberts lost a Democratic primary in August, but will remain in the office until January, when primary victor Karen Stockton will take office.

Majchier, who replaced Gauthier this summer as Republican registrar, could not be reached for comment on Gauthier's election complaint.

Roberts and Majchier objected to moving the polling place to the school, citing costs to hire staff and logistical problems because voter records are at Town Hall.

State law requires registrars of voters or the legislative body of the town “to select as polling places only those sites which meet the standards of accessibility required under the State Building Code.”

A town may select a site not handicapped accessible: “if no available site within the voting district or town can reasonably be made accessible.” The town building official must approve the site, and a waiver application would have to be filed 60 days before the election.

Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for the Secretary of the State’s office, said Preston registrars did not file a waiver for Town Hall to be used as a polling place, and the waiver might not be applicable if alternative sites were available.

First Selectman Congdon said town officials will wait for the committee report, but making the current ramp compliant “is going to be very difficult and an expensive proposition.” The ramp also is used to access several town offices in the lower level, including planning and zoning, building, resident troopers and assessor’s offices. Boards and commissions also meet in the lower level.

Congdon said it might take an elevator to make Town Hall compliant with accessibility requirements, which would require reconfiguring the building.

c.bessette@theday.com

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