As the state expands absentee ballot use for the primary election, town officials are facing decisions on how to make ballot collection boxes accessible to voters.
Meriden, Wallingford, Southington and Cheshire each received two ballot drop boxes this month, sent by the Secretary of the State’s office, paid for through the federal CARES Act.
A May executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont made the desire to avoid a polling place due to COVID-19 a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot for the August primary.
Polling places are slated to remain open for the Aug. 11 primary, but the Secretary of the State’s office sent absentee ballot application to every eligible voter.
The absentee ballots are slated to be mailed to voters July 21. Voters can fill it out and return it by using the prepaid envelope included with the ballot or delivering it to a drop box.
Meriden, Southington and Cheshire have installed at least one drop box outside City or Town Hall.
Wallingford is the holdout. Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he plans to keep the drop boxes inside, citing security and vandalism concerns.
Keeping Wallingford’s drop boxes inside Town Hall would limit access, however, since the building’s exterior doors are currently kept locked, rendering the drop boxes accessible for a limited number of weekday hours when staff is available to open a door.Drop boxes installed outside town halls
Gabe Rosenberg, communications director for the Secretary of the State’s office, said Tuesday that the drop boxes have to be accessible, but not at a certain location or outside.
Rosenberg said that the drop box manufacturer, American Security Cabinets, follows standards approved by the state of California, “the absolute best you can get,” and guidelines from the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.
Southington installed both of its drop boxes outside Town Hall, one in front of the building by the Main Street entrance and one at the Berlin Avenue side entrance.
Meriden has installed one drop box at City Hall by the Norwood Street entrance. The other one is slated to be installed by the Liberty Street entrance, by the Registrars of Voters office.
Cheshire officials chose to place one outside of Town Hall and are waiting to install the other one if the volume of returned ballots necessitates it.
“It does have a huge capacity,” Cheshire Town Clerk Laura Brennan said Monday. “Most people are responding through the mail, the regular mail.”
Brennan said her office staff empty the drop box regularly, adding that she was surprised that a small town like Cheshire received two boxes instead of one.
“I think one will be sufficient for the primary,” she said, “and if we feel like the second box is necessary, the Public Works Department can install it pretty quickly, because the holes have already been drilled.”Wallingford plans to keep drop boxes inside
In Wallingford, Dickinson said Monday he wants to keep both ballot drop boxes inside Town Hall.
“I doubt very much they’ll be placed around town,” Dickinson said. “You’re putting ballots unattended? Where they’re collected, it may be very easy for someone to vandalize it or whatever else. So I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
As of Tuesday, the plan is to keep one drop box outside the Town Clerk’s office door and one at the sliding glass door entrance on Prince Street.
Town Clerk Barbara Thompson said Tuesday she would have liked to put one in the hallway outside her office and one outside of Town Hall, but came to a compromise with Dickinson.
Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small said via email Monday that it appears that some other towns are putting them inside.
“Given the different types of buildings, I would expect that it would be difficult, in some cases, to keep them secure outside,” she said. “I would think security would be a primary concern and, on that basis, it makes sense to consider keeping them indoors.”
Small added that normally people mail in absentee ballots.
Democratic Town Councilor Gina Morgenstein said Tuesday that she was against keeping the ballot drop boxes inside.
“The whole point is that people not be forced to come out during a pandemic,” she said, “and if you’re going to have them inside a building … you’ve negated that whole purpose.”
She said that she sees what’s going on now as foreshadowing problems for the general election in November, and that she would like to see one ballot box outside a central location in town and the other in Yalesville, possibly at the branch library.
“We, as a town, should be making that availability done in the manner it’s intended,” she said, “which is two locations in town — outside.”