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04/20/2022 08:30 AM

Ann Devine: Stewarding a Stable Polling Process

Between budgets, primaries, elections, and more, Republican Registrar of Voters Ann Devine says the Registrars Office is busy year-round. Photo courtesy of Ann Devine

It’ safe to say that Madison’s new Republican Registrar of Voters Ann Devine grew up around a ballot box. Her father was a State Representative, chair of the Republican Town Committee, and served on numerous boards and commissions, including a stint as a registrar himself, and Ann says all that experience has helped her adjust to her new position.

Ann has had a long career in tech at a major insurance company in Hartford for 40 years, but says she wanted to serve Madison more directly as she began to wind down her technical career, and found her father to be good role model for service.

“He definitely had an influence, in bringing me in to help with his campaigns and work. He worked in town government his whole life, so he had a huge influence on me,” says Ann. “When I became a deputy registrar, working with Paula [Perry] and Bill [Gowanlock], the former registrars, was very also very important.”

Ann did a stint as deputy registrar in 2020 for the town, which she says prepped her well for her current position, serving alongside Democratic Registrar of Voters Jim Newton. The deputy service helped in particular to prepare her for the disruption by COVID restrictions that further hampered the voting process for towns like Madison.

“It was a tough time, but for all of the angst and nervousness that everybody had for 2020, it actually went off great. Everybody did such a great job and we didn’t really have any issues,” says Ann.

Ann says that many residents probably never think about the amount of preparation and work that is necessary for registrars to actually perform their duties.

“How the polls work and how much work is actually involved in actually getting through one of these elections, whether it’s a referendum or one of the big majors, is really amazing to see,” says Ann. “There really is so much prep work that has to be done ahead of time. It’s not like you just show up and at the polls and say, ‘Here you go people!’ There really is a lot of work, and a lot of preparation.

That can also translate in to getting volunteers for polling days. Though Madison has an excellent cadre of election and polling staff, it can be difficult to find people for some voting events.

“Trying to get workers at the polls is a challenge as well, although we have gotten a bunch of new people in after 2020. There was a lot of interest that got sparked in 2020, for whatever reason, and since then a lot of those people have stayed on,” says Ann. “That is a positive because it is an all-day event, and to participate you have to take the whole day off and stay focused. So we appreciate these new volunteers.”

The duties of a registrar continue all year and don’t just pop up around election or voting times. Both the pre- and post-election work is a heavy load, says Ann.

“We maintain voter registration. We have to process them, whether you’re registering as new, or updating your address, or your party selection,” says Ann. “If you’ve moved we have to get you off our system, so that is the day to day stuff. And you’d be surprised at how many of those come in every week. It can get crazy even well before an election.

She notes in particular that “2020 was very difficult for the staff. Then there’s all of the election stuff that we need to get done. We have to canvas, which is going through all of the records updated and entails sending out hundreds of letters, which then come back and we have to enter that into the Connecticut Voter Registration System, so all this work takes place behind the scenes.”

The hardest part of the job for Ann is the election preparation. Keep in mind that voting employees have to be pretty much perfect in their work, and any mistake can have dramatic effects on a town and its election.

“The hardest part of being a registrar for me is gearing up for any election. It’s a lot of time, and though it’s really a part-time job, but there is a lot to do. Ordering ballots, tabulator testing, it’s updating voter rolls, getting all that info entered, setting up the polling places, making sure we can actually use the polling places,” says Ann. “It’s not just voting day, it’s really a job that goes all year.”

Ann says the most rewarding part of her job is helping on Election Day.

“I actually think, even though Election Day is long and can be tedious, now that I’m doing this as a registrar, that is fulfilling,” says Ann, “being able to help people when they come in, answer questions, relieve their anxiety, and make sure they get what they need. Just being able to help people is something I’m happy to do, and to help them vote.”

Ann and Town Hall are gearing up for another election season as spring approaches, and the Registrar’s Office is already hard at work coordinating for the budget referendum in mid-May.

“The budget referendum is [Tuesday,] May 17, for the town budget and the school budget. We are in the middle of that and it is a huge effort on our office’s part,” Ann says. “We are cleaning up from the last election. There is always work to be done after elections and then we have the primary in early August and then the November election, so it’s kind of busy this year.”

Ann reminds everyone who votes absentee to refresh and remember the rules surrounding submission of these types of ballots. There are a number of steps and Ann stresses that residents need to understand the process.

“One of the biggest issues is the absentee balloting. This is an area where if voters don’t follow the rules, their ballot can be rejected, so it’s important to understand the steps,” says Ann.

According to Ann, her colleagues at Town Hall have been extremely welcoming and supportive since she joined.

“I like working in the office. I like the atmosphere. I worked for The Hartford for 40 years and now that I’m looking past that, this is a good time to take this on and commit to it,” says Ann. “You certainly don’t do this for the money. You do this because you have an interest in it. It is a joy to work with the people in this office, it certainly isn’t done for the money. I love working with [Democrat Registrar] Jim Newton and [Town Clerk] Nancy Martucci. We have a great crew and they make it more fun.”

The Madison Registrar of Voters Office is located at Town Hall and residents can visit in person during office hours (Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon) or contact either registrar regarding questions or information via email or phone at 203-245-5671.