MERIDEN — For 55 years, Republican Registrar of Voters Lillian “Toni” Soboleski has gotten up at 3 a.m. on Election Day to oversee operations at polling stations and tally votes until 1 a.m. the next day. It never ceased to excite her.
“I’ve loved being a part of the political process,” Soboleski said. “I love knowing that what I was doing was keeping the election honest and efficient and helping people.”
Soboleski, 81, who will be retiring this week after 55 years, has witnessed many changes in the election process. Hired in 1961, Soboleski spent 13 years as an assistant registrar, 14 years as deputy registrar and 28 years as the Republican registrar of voters.
In her first years, Soboleski recalled going door-to-door in one of the city’s downtown apartment complexes to confirm resident addresses. In one particular instance she remembers knocking on a man’s apartment door and having him answer the door completely naked.
“I looked straight ahead and asked, “Are you...” and conducted business as usual, she said.
The office went from using typewriters to electronic typewriters and eventually computers. Soboleski said she embraced new technology.
“You had to evolve and learn and grow,” Soboleski said.
She also witnessed several policy shifts that changed how elections are run, including same-day voter registration.
Soboleski’s said her most memorable elections were Ronald Reagan’s second term and the election of President Barack Obama, although she did not vote for him.
“It set a precedent,” Soboleski said.
Mayor Kevin Scarpati said he has known Soboleski since he attended Republican Town Committee meetings as a teen with his father and got to know her in a professional capacity when he ran for the Board of Education, City Council and mayor.
“Toni has always been a very friendly, familiar face in the registrar’s office for so many years and always a smile on her face, representing the city really well, not just one party but the entire city,” Scarpati said. “Not only do I consider Toni a colleague at City Hall, but also a great friend. She’s obviously going to be missed.”
Democratic Registrar of Voters Maureen Flynn said despite being on opposing sides of the ballot, she enjoyed working with Soboleski.
“She was very dedicated. We did not always agree but always tried to work everything out,” Flynn said. “We’re going to miss her.”
Deputy Republican Registrar of Voters Catherine Sarault will succeed Soboleski.
Soboleski said she will still maintain her other job conducting weddings as a justice of the peace.
During the summer months, she performs up to four weddings a week and says she enjoys the positive, spirited nuptial setting.
“Retiring will give me more time for my weddings,” Soboleski said.
Dozens of elephant-themed items line the shelves of Soboleski’s City Hall office, each given to her as a gift with knowledge of her love of the Republican party.
Elephant figurines, plush toys, pictures and even an apron are perched in every corner of her office, which is also decorated with pictures and various awards.
Soboleski said it will be strange to not come back to work in City Hall.
“I’m going to wake up on Monday and say, ‘What have I done?’ ” Soboleski joked. “It’s time though.”
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