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Norwalk's Registrars Tackle Daunting Task

NORWALK, Conn. — Stuart Wells sits surrounded by assessor's maps, each marked with highlighted lines running in different directions, as he trains moderators for the next election.

Wells, Norwalk's Democratic registrar, is busy. Sure, you say: There's an election coming up. But Wells and his counterpart, Republican Karen Doyle Lyons, have been working to redistrict Norwalk.

The city redistricting cannot be done before the state finishes its redistricting . Wells thought it likely that the state process would be delayed, as it was in 1991 and 2001. Given the complicated nature of the ungrid-like Norwalk, he thought it would be good to get started early, because if the state pushed into February and March, he and Lyons would be struggling to get ready for the presidential primaries.

"Ten years ago, because of the way the cycle works, they didn't have a presidential primary at the same time," he said. "So we have a great deal to do in the spring, and we already got a jump on the redistricting, knowing where the parcels are."

That's not as easy as it sounds. He and Lyons use census data, but the census blocks are generally defined by streets. Voting districts go along the taxing district lines, which sometimes cut through houses. One line cuts through a senior housing building, which puts people down the hall in another district. Another line cuts through Norden Place.

"They all have the same street address, and they're in the system by street address so it's not easy to sort all of this out," he said. "We knew about some of these problems so we're getting a jump on it."

The goal is to have each council member represent nearly the same number of people, but that's hard to calculate. If the taxing district line moves through a census block, registrars must estimate how many people are on either side.

This work is in addition to their regular duties. "Many people don't understand the working of the registrars of voters office," Lyons said. "They think we work just during election season." Wells said, "I had the same question (when I got elected): What do you do in the spring? Well there's plenty to do."

In January, they began canvassing to make sure voters are registered properly, sending out notices to see whether any are returned. Last June, they prepared inactive lists and removed inactive voters from the roles. In December, there's a deadline to submit a certificate of canvass completion. Then the cycle begins anew.

Why do people think registrars don't have much to do? "The trouble is, of course, during an election you try to make it look like you're not doing anything and you have to have it run perfectly," Wells said. "Nobody notices if everything runs smoothly. You don't notice the umpires if the game is all perfect. You only notice them when you think they screw up. But you still have a lot to do and the same with elections."

Contact reporter Nancy Chapman at nchapman@thedailynorwalk.com .

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