Tension over the September 13th primary for mayor, between Dan Drew and Christine Bourne, boiled over in August, as the Democratic Registrar and vice-chair of the Democratic Town Committee, Anne Tommasi, accused the Drew Campaign of impugning the integrity of the election process. As a result, the Town Clerk of the City, Sandra Russo-Driska, sent a stinging rebuke of the Drew 2011 campaign, with a reminder that the Registrar of Voters and Town Clerk’s Office work together to ensure a fair, accurate, and impartial election.
Democratic and Republican Registars both agree: “We’ve never, ever, ever, had a problem [until now].”
The controversy was over the selection of workers who would be assigned to the polls on election day. Tommasi, Russo-Driska, and the Republican Registrar, Janice Gionfriddo, each separately told me that the assignment of poll workers was always done by the Registrar’s office. This had not previously engendered controversy, even in the most heated and contentious primary elections. In past elections, if there were not enough trained poll workers in the party holding the primary, the Registrar’s Office would use trained poll workers from the opposing party. Gionfriddo told me, “We borrow moderators from each other all the time!”
“I started to do my job, totally impartial.”
This year, Tommasi said that troubles began from nearly the start. She said she used the same list she used for the primary election last year (for the state and national elections). In a phone call with the Registrar’s office, Drew challenged her process for selection, asking her how he could know that the poll workers she picked are not supporters of Chris Bourne. Gionfriddo told me this question was unprecedented, from either political party, in the many years she has been Registrar.
According to Tommasi, the Drew campaign then further escalated the interrogations and challenges. Most of this came from Geoff Luxenberg, the recently elected State Representative from Manchester, employed as Drew’s campaign manager. Luxenberg communicated with Tommasi in a series of emailed questions (see links below). Tommasi said that the questions made her very uncomfortable because they seemed to challenge her impartiality, “They raked me over the coals.” In one exchange, Luxenberg seemed to question why Democratic Town Committee endorsed candidates on the primary ballot could not serve as election workers.
Tommasi volunteered to meet face to face with Luxenberg, to resolve any issues and to avoid the possible misinterpretations that written emails can engender. She said the Drew campaign “refused to meet face to face”, apparently preferring the written record that emails would create. In response to a request for a meeting, Luxenberg wrote, “I hope you will respect the integrity of the request and provide clear and timely answers via email in accordance with your responsibilities. The questions are simple and I am sure you can provide answers in writing via email which will satisfy us.”
“I am disappointed and perplexed as to why ...”
Town Clerk Russo-Driska concurred that the Drew campaign had unreasonably questioned the integrity of the Registrar’s office, and had also questioned the impartiality of the Town Clerk Office, “the questions turned to interrogation.” She took the unprecedented step of sending a letter to all of the candidates on the ballot for the September 13th Democratic primary, “.... Mr. Geoff Lunxenberg [sic] (Drew 2011 Campaign) seems to feel the need to pressure, interrogate and intimidate YOUR Democratic Acting Registrar, Anne Tommasi regarding who is working at the polls and why.”
Drew categorically rejected the notion that there was anything which the Democratic registrar or Town Clerk should be upset about, “This is a manufactured controversy drawing attention from real issues like jobs and taxes. When I see letters like this [from the Town Clerk], I understand why people are fed-up. They want government to work to improve the economy, and that’s what I’m going to focus City Hall on doing.”
Russo-Driska said that her letter to all the candidates seems to have calmed the situation. Tomassi expressed her relief, “I’m glad that the town clerk stepped in, because she’s totally impartial.”
Democratic Town Committee Chair Also Challenges Registrar
Tommasi told me that Lisa Santangelo, chair of the Democratic Town Committee joined Drew in questioning the process used by the the Registrar's office, “She said I should not use Republican [poll workers].” Santangelo also objected to involving the Town Clerk in the process, according to Tomassi, because Russo-Driska is registered as a Republican. Tommasi defended the impartiality and professionalism of Russo-Driska, pointing to her 26 years of work ensuring fair elections, “For someone to question her made me very uncomfortable…. [The city] doesn’t have a Republican Town Clerk, we have a Town Clerk.”
I asked Gionfriddo if it was common for a Party Chair to challenge the work of the Registrar’s office as Santangelo did. She said, “I was surprised”. Tommasi went further, “They don’t care what the process is.... They want it done their way.”