DERBY— A mistake in determining where lines should be drawn after the legislature redesigned the 104th and 105th state House districts led to as many as 36 households on Park Avenue and Roosevelt Drive voting in the wrong races during the last three state house elections.
It also means Kara Rochelle, the Democratic candidate running for the vacant 104th District seat is running in a district where she does not live. Rochelle, a Park Avenue resident, lives across the street, in what is now the 105th district.
State law allows a candidate to run in a legislative district in which they do not reside, as long as they move there by inauguration.
The district mixup has heated up a low-key race for the 104th seat left open when longtime Democrat Linda Gentile announced her retirement.
“I don’t plan to make an issue of it,” said Joseph Jaumann, the Republican Ansonia alderman who is running against Rochelle. “If there’s an issue it’s between her and the voters.”
Meanwhile Rochelle pledged to move “across the street or further in the district” if she wins.
“This race is not about — and should not be about — a clerical error of local officials,” she said. “It’s about who will best serve the people of Ansonia and Derby, and who has a strong sense and set of goals to lead this region and state to a brighter future, well-funded schools, good paying jobs, smart economic development, responsible budgeting, and a vibrant community for everyone.
“My heart, my time, and my allegiance are with the people of Ansonia and Derby,” Rochelle said. “A line on a map does not change that.”
It was Sam Pollastro Jr., Derby’s Republican Town chairman and Jaumann’s campaign manager, who found the the mistake.
“I don’t know how this happened; I just want it corrected,” pollastro said. “What I can tell you is, my candidate knows which district he lives in.”
Pollastro discovered the mapping mistake while creating a walking list for Jaumann’s door-knocking campaign.
“I Google mapped the district and noticed some of the house numbers were not coming up,” Pollastro said.
His investigation indicates that residents of 25, 117, 121, 123, 125, 127, 136, 142, 144, 146, 152, 154, and 162 Park Avenue, and those living in 1015, 1017, 1019, 1021, 1023, 1025 Roosevelt Drive, as well as the first floor of 1027 Roosevelt Drive, are affected by the change.
On Friday, Gabe Rosenberg, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s communications director, said “the General Assembly confirmed for us that there are three houses that are physically located in the 104th district... erroneously listed in the voter registration system as being in the 105th district.”
Merrill’s the office also determined 12 houses physically located in the 105th District are erroneously listed in the voter registration system as being in the 104th.
State officials are working on a clarifying where residents of the homes in question should be voting.
“We have notified the Derby registrar of voters and are expecting them to make the necessary changes shortly,” Rosenberg said. “It appears the issue was caused by mistakes made in making the changes following the redistricting in 2011.
People may have voted in the wrong state representative race in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
“We can’t rewrite the past,” Pollastro said. “All we can do is make sure people are voting in the correct district from now on.”
None of those last three races were decided by as few as 40 votes. The closest was the 105th in 2012. In that race, Democrat Theresa Conroy defeated Republican Len Greene Jr. by 78 votes, 5,161-5,083.
Gentile, an Ansonia resident, won all her 104th races handily. Most recently, Republican Nicole Klarides-Ditria ousted Conroy by 1,750 votes in the 105th.
Getting the word out
Klarides-Ditria agreed that corrections must be made before the November election. None of the Aug. 14 primaries impact the 104th or 105th.
“Whatever the problem was, let’s go through the proper channels and correct it,’ Klarides-Ditria said.
Pollastro reported his discovery to Derby’s two registrar of Voters — Democrat Louise Pitney and Republican John Kowarik— as well as the Office of the Secretary of the State. The registrars are part-time positions.
“I’m not blaming anyone,” said Pollastro. “This touched many hands.”
On Thursday afternoon, Pitney was poring over files and desk-filling maps of the districts. The new dividing line between the 104th and the 105th districts runs along Hawthorne, North and Park Avenues as well as Roosevelt Drive. Many of these streets were split on odd and even sides. The redistricted map was prepared by David Elder on Dec. 12, 2011.
Derby, the state’s smallest city, is divided into three state House districts: the 104th, which includes all of Ansonia and 1,935 Derby voters; the 105th, which includes Seymour, Beacon Falls and 760 Derby voters; and the 114th, made up of Woodbridge, parts of Orange and about 3,500 Derby voters.
The 114th is represented by Republican House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, Nicole’s sister.
“I expect we’ll be sending out letters to the affected voters before the November election,” said Pitney.
That letter will tell the affected voters to still cast ballots at Irving School, 9 Garden Place. The only difference is that those in three homes will be given a ballot for the Jaumann versus Rochelle race, while those living in 12 houses will be given a ballot in the race pitting Klarides-Ditria, the Republican incumbent, against Democrat Kevin McDuffie of Beacon Falls.
Gentile said she’s been told by people in Hartford that mistakes like this have happened in the past.
“It’s purely an oversight done accidentally,” Gentile said. “Nothing was done maliciously or malevolently.”
The redistricting process is done by the legislature through the Reapportionment Commission, while the actual changes are implemented by the local registrars, explained Rosenberg, the Secretary of the State spokesperson.
“Our office has no formal role in redistricting,” he said. “The Derby registrars of voters verified to us in early 2012 that they had implemented the redistricting changes made by the Reapportionment Commission.”