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Montville primary for Republican registrar has become a contentious affair

Montville — The Aug. 11 primary for Republican Registrar of Voters has become a contentious affair.

Current registrar Dana McFee is facing challenger Jeff Rogers. McFee has been registrar for five years; Rogers is a retired state trooper and former Republican Town Councilman.

Rogers is endorsed by the local Republican Town Committee because, he claims, the group knows he will do more to help the party, saying McFee does “the bare minimum at his job.”

“During our town committee meetings, (McFee’s) been asked to produce reports, and he doesn’t come prepared with those reports,” Rogers said. “When you don’t fulfill your party’s requests and requirements, you’re not going to receive their endorsement. I have vowed to the party I will fulfill their requirements.”

How partisan should a registrar be?

McFee and others have said Rogers is too partisan a political figure to be a registrar, a position which 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 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."

So does Rogers view the role of registrar as a way to help the Republican party?

“Absolutely. Absolutely,” he said, adding, “The most important part is getting people registered to vote.”

Rogers has also made involvement with the town’s education system part of his platform. He would “volunteer to serve as a lector for civics classes to assist in educating all young adults on our election processes,” as stated in a campaign release.

“He thinks he’s going to the schools?” McFee asked about Rogers. “If the superintendent or the principal of Montville High School thought that he was going to show up and try to recruit people for the Republican Party, he wouldn’t be allowed in the school.”

Rogers also states in the campaign release that he would “provide the Montville Republican Party with voter information to assist in positive and productive political campaigns.”

Rogers said McFee has not done enough for town Republicans.

“Jeff Rogers will tell you I didn’t supply information to the town commitee, which is total nonsense,” McFee said, adding that he has been providing the committee with statistics of how many Republicans had signed up to vote.

McFee said registrars are to give both parties pertinent information when requested. He also said Montville’s citizens can’t tell the difference between the Republican and Democratic registrars without asking.

Rogers has said he wants to be registrar because he values community involvement. But McFee maintains Rogers’ motivation is to act as a partisan political operative in a nonpartisan position. McFee sees a conflict of interest in Rogers being the representative for the 20th district in the state GOP’s Central Committee.

Rogers said he takes that accusation with a “grain of salt.” 

“There’s a reason we have two-party representation, so anyone that says you’re too partisan, it’s a very foolish thing,” Rogers said. “If it’s not partisan, why do we have two-party representation? Why don't we allow Independents to be registrars? I know other registrars that are also state central representatives.”

Both men have different visions for Republican registrar. McFee wants to keep with the tradition of Mary Clark Wilson, who appointed McFee deputy registrar before he took over the position. She, McFee said, preached an apolitical approach.

Marquand has called some of the promises and statements Rogers is making as "very misleading to the public.”

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.”

Personal spats

McFee and Rogers have attacked each other on Facebook, within The Day’s letter to the editor pages and during separate interviews for this story.

As McFee said: “Me and Jeff Rogers don’t like each other.”

And Rogers said of McFee, “The day to day job gets done, but his responsibilities to the party is where he has come up short.”

McFee called Rogers a “dirty cop” for an incident from 2011, when a judge in New London Superior Court put Rogers on a special form of probation that wiped his criminal record clean after he was charged with third-degree assault and risk of injury to a minor following a traffic stop in which he punched a 15-year-old who had been riding a motor bike on a roadway. Rogers brought up a much-publicized event in which McFee stole a political yard sign in 2014 and later turned himself in to the state police on an arrest warrant for sixth-degree larceny.

Rogers isn’t new to public political battles.

“It’s probably not the best option on his part to go down that road with me,” Rogers said of McFee,  also a former town councilor.

Still, both said that once the winner is determined, the animosity won’t matter any longer.

“I hope when the race is all over and done with, Dana and I can shake hands and walk away,” Rogers said. “We’ll carry on with Republican business, and that’ll be the end of it, regardless of how it turns out.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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