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    Friday, September 22, 2023

    Longtime Norwich registrar retires after grueling election season

    Dianne Slopak on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, in her Taftville home. The first woman to serve as Norwich's Republican registrar, she retired Wednesday after 11 years in the position. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich — Dianne Slopak, the first woman to serve as the city’s Republican registrar, retired on Wednesday after 11 years in the position.

    Slopak, an outspoken champion of the work — and critic of the workload — that election workers do, will be replaced by her former deputy registrar, Cheryl Stover.

    “I was reelected for a four-year term in November, and I thought I would complete this term, but last year was too much for me,” she said. “I just decided, I’m 72, and it’s time. So many people have said that to me, ‘You’ll know when it’s time,' and that’s how I feel. It’s time for me to go.”

    For last year’s election season, Slopak and other election officials and workers had to adjust on the fly to guidance from the governor, legislature and secretary of the state. Throughout the process, Slopak repeatedly told The Day how Norwich was handling these changes, including increased absentee voting, as people could use the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason to vote by absentee ballot. The date of the primary election also changed several times, posing a challenge.

    “Last year was just horrific. We were supposed to have a primary in April, then we have another primary in August for the other stuff on the ballot, then we have the election in November,” she said. “But instead of April, now we were preparing for June, then they postponed it to August. Then in August we have to do a lot more than we normally would."

    "Every two weeks, they would change their directives," she added. "It just was so frustrating for all of us, because they just were not consistent in what they wanted from us.”

    Norwich Democratic Registrar Dianne Daniels called the first pandemic election “a challenge,” in part because of a dearth of election workers.

    “Elections are a challenge anyway because of the amount of things we have to do,” she said. “Then when you tack a pandemic on top of that ... We had quite a few election workers who did not want to work because they were afraid of the pandemic. In addition to getting all the stuff done in the office, we also have to recruit and train election workers.”

    Despite the toll of last year’s election, Slopak said she loved her time as registrar. Before taking on that role, she worked in the legislature for 20 years, at one point as a legislative aide to a state senator. When she’d retired from there, she was looking for something local and part time, and already had been in politics in one way or another for 34 years, so the registrar gig seemed natural.

    Before working in the legislature, Slopak said she and her husband were self-employed in the upholstery and decorating business.

    Originally from Colchester, Slopak said she wasn’t at all interested in politics when she was young. She started school as a dental assistant and was married at a young age.

    “When I was pregnant, they kicked me out because they told me — this was 53 years ago — the X-rays would affect the baby, and they wouldn’t let me continue,” she said. “These days, that would be a lawsuit so fast.”

    Her colleagues, City Clerk Betsy Barrett and Daniels, both extolled Slopak’s dry and sometimes cutting sense of humor, as well as her outspokenness and candor.

    Barrett said Slopak meticulously follows and is well-versed in the law. She also praised Slopak for being nonpartisan, and for always answering questions thrown at her.

    “We’re going to miss her knowledge, of course, I know she’s willing to help even when she’s retired — she may be called on again for answers,” Barrett said. “We’ll miss her personality, her being here, her knowledge and expertise.”

    Daniels said she considers Slopak a good friend and they worked well together. They’ve been counterparts for about eight years.

    “We laugh a lot because we have the same first name. People will call the office and say, ‘Can we speak to Dianne?’ And our natural response is, ‘Which one?’” Daniels said. “We love talking about our families, our husbands, our kids, our grandkids, and we’re constantly giggling at the stories we tell each other.”

    Daniels describes Slopak as a detail-oriented registrar whom people come to with questions about election law. If Slopak doesn’t immediately know the answer, she finds the source document.

    “She has a checklist of things we should do in order to get ready for an election,” Daniels said. “She either was inspired by something she’d seen or she created this checklist. As long as you go through the checklist every election, you never have a problem. Things run smoothly, we don’t have embarrassing things happen, like running out of ballots.”

    “One of my favorite sayings is ‘expectations unheard are expectations unmet’; she had no problem expressing herself, and with good reason,” Daniels added of Slopak.

    “I think she’s passionate about the subject or topic at hand, I don’t think she’s outspoken in a bad way,” Barrett said. “She makes a stand on her point of view, and she’s passionate about issues.”

    When it comes to certain voting changes, Slopak is hyper-focused on the expense to municipalities and the workload placed on people like registrars, who are often technically in part-time positions. She abhors Election Day registration for its added stress on city election workers, noting that voters have almost a full year to register to vote, “Why are you waiting until the last minute?” When asked about no-excuse absentee voting, she says, “I don’t like that one, either.” She’s a critic of early voting, as well.

    She recalled how Election Day registration came to be in Connecticut, detailing a vote that took place at a Registrars of Voters Association Connecticut conference around 2009 or 2010 about whether the state’s registrars were in favor of such a measure.

    “The vote at the conference was dead even, yes and no. They took the vote several times, this thing went on for hours, nobody would change their mind,” she said. “Finally, the chair, who was very much for it, said, ‘OK we’re at a deadlock, I’m making the decision that you agree.’ Half of us were against it, especially those of us in the big cities because it’s a nightmare in the big cities. I can imagine that it might work in a small town because they have so few voters but when you get hundreds and hundreds of people trying to register on Election Day, it’s just a mess.”

    Slopak isn’t vehemently opposed to no-excuse absentee voting “because people lie so they don’t have to go to the polls anyway,” but she says the way the system currently is constructed, it’s confusing for people and they sometimes get their votes thrown out.

    As for early voting: “The biggest reservation I have is the expenses to municipalities,” she said. “If they’re using the machines, they’re going to have to have security for the machines 24 hours a day, and it’ll be a lot of money. What happens to somebody who voted two weeks in advance and they changed their mind and want to vote another way? There’s no way they can get their ballot back. With absentee at least, if you vote one way and you decide you want to vote another way or to vote in person, you can go to the city clerk and request that you destroy your ballot.”

    While Slopak is retiring, she said she’ll soon be searching for a “low-stakes, part-time job.” She said she specifically wants a job with no responsibility — “I’ve had jobs my entire life where I’ve had huge responsibilities, and now I just want to do a little job and go home, to not lose sleep over my job and just be.”

    Slopak said she didn’t know until this year that she wouldn’t continue as registrar.

    “I’m happy to be gone, but I’m going to miss everybody. I just don’t want to have anything to do with an election,” she said. “If I could do the job without doing an election, I’d be fine.”


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