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Leaders of state political parties urge town committees to hold remote meetings

In the Connecticut political world, March is the time for Democratic and Republican town committees to hold caucuses and meetings to elect party officers and delegates to the various conventions that nominate General Assembly and statewide office candidates.

Now that town halls, libraries and other traditional meeting spaces are closed, the state and federal governments are prohibiting most gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two state political party chairmen have issued a joint letter allowing party town committees to elect officers and delegates through remote meeting arrangements.

Nancy Wyman, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party and J.R. Romano, state Republican Party chairman, sent a joint letter March 18 to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill outlining an agreement to allow local town committees to hold remote meetings.

“While both parties believe that a virtual presence, either (by) telephonic, video or other technological means, would satisfy their respective rules,” the joint letter stated, “we want to ensure that the public and election regulators recognize that the steps we jointly have agreed to follow are fair and appropriate with regard to party nominations. This is especially important for candidates who opt to participate in the state’s Citizens Election Program.”

The agreement allows political parties from now through Election Day, Nov. 3, “to carry out their responsibilities through telephonic, video or other technological means that provide for a virtual presence for their participants.” The parties must identify their processes for meeting participation and “adhere to the spirit of the party rules,” the letter stated.

However, some town committees have bylaws that require caucuses of town party members to select convention delegates. Because there is not enough time to change those bylaws, Wyman and Romano wrote that they have asked Gov. Ned Lamont to issue an executive order to allow town committees to select delegates using remote meetings, rather than caucuses, without needing to change their bylaws.

“In the event that such an order is not issued in time, both parties will direct any town committee that holds a caucus to select delegates to do so, instead, through a town committee meeting,” the state party leaders said. “The reason for this order is that it is not feasible to properly conduct a caucus (by) either telephonic, video or other technological means.”

In Norwich, both major parties use town committee meetings rather than caucuses to vote on their officers and to select delegates to the various conventions. Democratic Town Committee Chairman Derell Wilson said the committee will convert its Thursday, March 26, meeting into a teleconference for the approximately 40 members.

“I think everyone can do it,” Wilson said. “We have some very easy methods for everyone.”

Republican Town Committee Chairman Rob Dempsky said he considers the meeting restrictions an overreaction. But because City Hall and other potential public meeting places are closed, the RTC will hold its Wednesday, March 25, meeting for the approximately 15 current members at a member’s leased office space in downtown Norwich, with an option for members to participate by phone. The town committee will be electing officers, adding new members and electing delegates to conventions.

“People who are comfortable meeting in person, like me, will be here,” Dempsky said, “and the state GOP has made teleconferencing an option. We offered our membership a choice.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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