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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    ‘A wealth of knowledge’: Ledyard Democratic registrar of voters retires after 42 years

    Hazel Gorman poses for a photo at the ballot box outside Ledyard Town Hall on Monday, Dec. 19, 2022, amid attending a holiday party in the mayor’s office that also celebrated her 42 years of service as the town’s Democratic registrar of voters. (Erica Moser/The Day)
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    Ledyard ― Having served as Democratic registrar of voters for 42 years, Hazel M. Gorman has worked with six town clerks and during the tenure of eight U.S. presidents. And the changes in election technology and administration during that time? Probably too many to count.

    Now, she is retiring.

    Gorman has been retired from her job as an educator ― first in Roxbury, Mass., then Killingly, and then Salem ― for 12 years. At 81, she figured it was time to retire from this part-time job as well, and her official last day was Thursday, Dec. 22.

    She leaves with a wish: We “need to reflect on the fact that we are so lucky to live in the United States of America, and one of the best privileges we have ― and it truly is a privilege ― is to vote, and to exercise the opportunity whenever we have a chance to do it.”

    Gorman has two years left on her term. It will be completed by Diana Mann, who has served as Democratic deputy registrar since June, after working the polls with Gorman for the past 12 years. Mann will do training next year.

    One of Gorman’s fondest memories as registrar is her two eldest grandsons visiting on Election Day, starting when they were around 3 and 4. (The oldest is now 25.) She can still picture their smiling faces as they ran through the door.

    Her foray into the registrar’s office began when she had recently joined the Democratic Town Committee and was running for the board of education ― and when the Democratic registrar of voters at the time was looking for a deputy. In Connecticut municipalities, the Republican and Democratic registrars are elected, but each can appoint a deputy.

    “I didn’t have a clue what a deputy registrar of voters was,” Gorman said. Voting was her only frame of reference; she had not thought about the “dynamics that take place behind the scene.”

    But she took the job, at a time when it consisted of a typewriter, pens, pencils and rulers. She sees her own lack of understanding back then reflected in others’ perceptions today.

    Gorman, who then became the Democratic registrar in 1980, says there is a standing joke in the office: “Oh, the election fairies showed up again, because the election is done, it’s over, it was successful.”

    If the registrars are the election fairies, there are also people helping the fairies. Gorman rattled off a list: Poll worker Sheila “Rusty” Godino made cookies and cakes; Dick Weiner, husband of moderator Pat Weiner, picked up meals; Jeanne Allyn made a turkey dinner.

    Allyn is the mother of Mayor Fred Allyn III, who said being a registrar can be a thankless job and “a big task, but it’s a critically important role for our democracy, and I certainly thank (Gorman) for her service.”

    Republican Registrar of Voters Claudia Sweeney, who has worked as registrar and deputy for seven years, said Gorman is “a wealth of information for anyone who comes into the office,” and that she is “a fixture here and she’ll be missed.”

    What do registrars do anyway?

    Per state statute, the responsibilities of a registrar include registering voters, maintaining up-to-date voter registry lists, participating in absentee voting administration, ensuring the proper maintenance and storage of voting machines, appointing deputy registrars, and conducting elections, which includes training and supervising poll workers, determining polling locations by voting district, and ensuring polling places are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    While Election Day is certainly a marathon day for registrars, they are busy year-round keeping track of the voters in Ledyard ― all 10,427 of them as of Nov. 1, according to data from the Connecticut Secretary of the State.

    The state in December disseminates the calendar for the next year, laying out month-by-month what needs to be accomplished. Gorman called it “like the bible of the registrar’s office.”

    The registrars run their canvass of voters from January through April, amending registry and enrollment lists based on address changes, party changes and deaths.

    Preparing for an upcoming election involves advising school administrators the dates when schools will need to be used for voting. As for the office budget, Gorman said the price of ballots is a fixed cost but the unknown is whether something will arise that causes the public to seek a referendum.

    She said the three biggest budget items are ballots, hiring election worker and salaries. Gorman said she started off making around $1,500 and now makes $10,000.

    The registrars also look at the number and percent of people who voted in the last few elections to determine how many ballots need to be printed. They work on that with Town Clerk Patricia Riley, who said Gorman has “been wonderful to work with. I’m going to miss her. She’s a wealth of knowledge.”

    Gorman said in her tenure, she has “only had one really close call” in ordering enough ballots. A moderator thought they were going to run out of ballots, so Gorman called the printer and was in contact with then-Mayor John Rodolico, who requested a police car to pick up more ballots.

    But Gorman said in many ways, Election Day “is anti-climactic, because you’ve gone through the toughest part. The most nerve-wracking part of it is making sure those tabulators are programmed.”

    She was referring to cards that are programmed to tell the tabulator how to read each ballot, and before the public starts voting, Gorman said election workers run a “test deck” through to see if the tabulator is correctly counting votes.

    Then each tabulator prints tape with zeroes for all candidates, which she said is posted so the electorate “is rest assured nobody voted on that tabulator.”

    The poll workers who check in voters count the number of people voting in their books, and when voting is over, that number is compared with the number on the tabulator, which is sealed and secured after the election.

    Some towns count absentee ballots in each voting district but Ledyard does central counting at Gallup Hill School, which Gorman views as a more transparent process.

    Beyond the switch from typewriters to computers, she has seen many technological changes over the years, such as the elimination of the party lever. And the pandemic brought new challenges to the 2020 election: Many poll workers are older, so Gorman said they were afraid to work and it was a struggle to find people.

    Reflecting on the checks and balances in election administration and the clean bill Ledyard has gotten from state audits, Gorman commented, “I truly believe in the system, and it truly has proven over the years to be tried and true.”


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