Miller-Driscoll referendum draws another electioneering complaint

The State Elections Enforcement Commission has rendered another decision in a complaint connected to the Miller-Driscoll Renovation Project, less than three months after dismissing most of the complaints brought by Sensible Wilton.
Wilton resident Eric Fanwick filed a complaint regarding illegal electioneering during the vote that took place after the Special Town Meeting of Sept. 23. The vote was to approve bonding of the Miller-Driscoll renovation project.
The commission’s decision was drafted in August and adopted and released Tuesday, Sept. 15.
The complaint revolved around the distribution of a flyer, which was clearly biased against the project, within 75 feet of a polling place during voting hours. Both the Special Town Meeting and adjourned vote on Sept. 23 took place in the Clune Center, although in different parts of the building. The meeting was in the auditorium and voting took place in the lobby.
In his complaint, Fanwick alleged Sensible Wilton was behind the flyer, but the commission’s investigation, with which Sensible Wilton President Alex Ruskewich cooperated, found the group did not pay for the flyer.
Instead, the actual author was found to be Wilton resident Ed Papp, who had been supportive of Sensible Wilton’s actions, but was not a member.
When named as a respondent in the matter and questioned, Papp admitted to writing, distributing and paying for the flyer himself. He said he originally intended to have it printed in The Bulletin, but he missed the deadline for letters to the editors. Instead, he spent $10 to $15 photocopying 200 to 300 copies of the flyer.
Papp distributed his flyers at the beginning of the town meeting, and would have been in the clear if he had stopped there, because the electioneering statute only applies during the hours of voting. Electioneering before or after voting is not prohibited.
Papp admitted to distributing 15 to 20 flyers during voting, but he did so under the impression he had permission.
Papp told the commission he attended the town meeting as a member of the community and said public comments were cut off just prior to his turn to speak. He then asked the moderator, Stephen Hudspeth, if he could distribute his flyers within the auditorium. Hudspeth said that would be OK, as long as he did not distribute them in the lobby, which he did not. A video recording of the meeting confirmed this, the commission’s report said.
Nevertheless, the commission perceived the auditorium as a zone protected by electioneering statutes. Moreover, the moderator had no standing to legally waive the statutes, but the commission said “it was not unreasonable for Mr. Papp to have relied on this representation.”
Hence, the commission chose not to assess punitive action and instead issued a consent agreement whereby Papp will comply with state electioneering laws in the future. Both Fanwick and Papp agreed to the consent agreement.
In a comment to The Bulletin, Papp noted the lack of a penalty and added, “According to the SEEC, I had ‘reasonable reliance” that the moderator had the authority to grant permission. As it turns out, Mr. Hudspeth did not have the authority.
“It was interesting to learn from the SEEC however, that I or any other citizen may distribute flyers in the auditorium PRIOR TO the vote to end the meeting, something all of us had been discouraged to do in the past.”