State election officials are investigating a complaint regarding a poll worker stationed at New Canaan High School on Election Day last year.
Allison Totaro at least five times “used her position to intentionally influence the vote by telling voter[s] that as a ‘Republican they were only to vote for 4 candidates’ when in fact a voter had the opportunity to vote for up to 6 candidates regardless of their party affiliation,” according to a complaint lodged Feb. 14 with the Connecticut State Elections Enforcement Commission.
“Witness testimony as set forth in the affidavits clearly confirm this was a violation of election law and the 2013 Moderator handbook guidelines,” Christina Fagerstal and Lisa Hannich—current and immediate past chairs, respectively, of the New Canaan Democratic Town Committee—said in their complaint, obtained from the SEEC by NewCanaanite.com through a public records request. “In addition to the misinformation, the Moderator failed to remove the Respondent from the polling location.”
The DTC on Election Day (Nov. 2, 2021) “received multiple complaints regarding officials inside the polls providing intentionally misleading ballot information,” the complaint said.
“The information being provided was consistent with Republican literature that all [R]epublicans were required to only vote for the 4 Republican candidates for the Board of Education,” it said. The “literature” refers to a New Canaan Republican Town Committee-distributed endorsement letter from First Selectman Kevin Moynihan that is at the center of a separate, ongoing New Canaan Ethics Board investigation.
During the SEEC’s March 2 meeting (viewable here), commissioners discussed the complaint, along with four others, in executive session. After reopening the public meeting, the Commission voted 3-0 on a recommendation from SEEC attorney and legal investigator Kevin M. Ahern to “make a determination that it’s necessary to investigate” the allegations laid out in the five complaints. The cases were not discussed specifically during the public session. Those voting included SEEC Chair Stephen Perry, Vice Chair Michael Ajello and Commissioner Andrew Cascudo. Commissioners Shannon Bergquist and Gregory Piecuch were absent.
News broke on Election Day itself regarding Totaro and a reported irregularity at the NCHS polling place. The RTC in a statement issued even before closed that day said the accusations regarding Totaro were “at worst an attempt to steal the election, or at very least to cast doubt on the results” as well as “categorically false.”
Last year’s most closely followed contested races were for open seats on the Board of Education. In all, six seats were up for election—five four-year terms and one two-year term. Electors were allowed to vote for up to six candidates—up to five of the eight total candidates seeking four-year terms, and for one of the two candidates seeking a two-year term.
In the end, Republicans retained the four seats they already held, though Democrats made significant gains compared to past municipal elections. In the race for four-year BOE terms, for example, the Republicans won by an average of 191 votes over their Democratic opponents in 2021, compared to a 435-vote average differential in 2019, and 730-vote average differential in 2017.
NewCanaanite.com contacted the SEEC in the weeks following the election regarding the reported irregularity. As recently as Dec. 22, state officials said no formal complaint had been lodged regarding Totaro (see update at the bottom of this post).
The complaint lodged last month names four New Canaanites as witnesses. They provided the following statements in sworn affidavits:
- Sarah Lohmann: “My mother in law and I walked in through the doors where we were handed a ballot form by Allison Totaro and there was another person standing there helping. I remember it because Allison stuttered her words and then tried again saying – ‘You can’t over-vote but you can under-vote.’ And then at my pause and hesitation she took the time to explain that we can’t vote for more than one candidate but we can choose to not vote for a candidate – thereby ‘undervoting.’ I don’t know if my mother in law heard the same as she has hearing aids but I can ask.”
- Abigail Skidmore: “I went to vote around 7:45am on Tuesday at New Canaan High School and was met by Ms. Totaro who identified herself as a ‘Greeter’ upon entering the door. I noticed immediately she was wearing a name tag around her neck with a man’s name on it, which I thought was odd. She held up a ballot and was enthusiastically, if not exactly clearly, explaining it to me, which I appreciated until, as she concluded her remarks, she mentioned that ‘if you are a Republican, you would only vote for 4 candidates for school board.’ In the excitement of the ensuing voting I forgot about her words, but so regret now not having brought her to the attention of voting officials or others in the moment. I hope she has since been disqualified for any future role at the polls!”
- Julia Stewart: “At approximately 11:20am on Tuesday November 2nd I went to vote at the New Canaan High School location. When I walked through the doors into the election room/gym I heard a tall woman with a southern accent (I was able to identify as Allison Totaro) instruct the individual in front of me that ‘they could vote for 6, but could also vote for only 4.’ There was more to the conversation but that is what I remember with certainty. I came right out to the table where the [D]emocrats were stationed and told them what I had heard as I had thought no instructions were to be given once inside the room. Erica Schwedel and Karen Willett were the candidates outside along with Toddy Turrentine who got Kathleen Corbet’s attention. I repeated to her what I had heard and then left the location.”
- Lucie Turrentine: “Julia Stewart came to the Democrats’ table outside the high school. It was during my shift, 10:00-12:30. She said that a ‘greeter’ on the right side, by the large display showing the ballot, was telling people they could vote for 6 people for BOE (all openings), but they only had to or should vote for 4. I went in, and, after listening to the greeter on the left, Jill Ernst (U), to see what she was saying (which was ok by that time, but apparently, she had said something similar earlier) I moved in to listen to Allison Totaro who was in fact telling voters they ‘only had to vote for 4 candidates.’ I told her she could not say that, and she said she was just saying what she was told to say. I told her this again and got the same response. I asked who told her, and she would not tell me. It seems to me she could have, unless she was told not to or she knew they were doing something wrong. I then went over to the table where Debbie (Lyons? R) and Liz Orteig (D) were sitting and told them this. One or both said that they were just trying to be helpful to voters, but that they would speak to her. Debbie (Lyons? R) went over to her, came back, and told me everything was ok now.”
The RTC in its statement issued on Election Day said, in part, “New Canaan Democrats have accused a volunteer greeter at the polls, who was merely giving instructions, of trying to sway voters. This accusation is categorically false, as stated by Elizabeth Orteig, the New Canaan DTC’s own Treasurer, James Walsh, the Moderator of the District 3 polling station, and other workers at the poll. No such instructions were given beyond the technicalities of the somewhat complicated ballot – as other poll workers were doing today. The reasoning for the instructions were that this morning 36 ballots were invalidated because voters voted for too many candidates for the Board of Education. As a result of these false allegations, approximately 1,200 ballots at New Canaan High School have been improperly ‘segregated,’ which is a gross violation of election procedure and CT election law.”
It’s unclear whether the ballots separated out on Election Day remain set aside, or what could come of the SEEC investigation.
In a March 11 letter to Totaro, the SEEC said that “a written response” from her “is recommended and expected” by March 21. The SEEC has one full year to resolve the matter, the agency said in the cover letter to Totaro, obtained by NewCanaanite.com.
The RTC’s full statement on the matter was posted to the organization’s Facebook page on Election Day, along with commentary that included misinformation. When that misinformation was brought to the attention of RTC leadership, they apologized for the Facebook post, said they didn’t know it had been published under the organization’s name and removed it.
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