WALLINGFORD — Democratic mayoral candidate Riley O’Connell criticized Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr.’s decision not to use the town’s election materials dropboxes to collect absentee ballot applications until Sept. 1.
O’Connell released a statement Monday calling Dickinson’s decision “a clear attempt to discourage voting.”
The longtime incumbent mayor strongly denied the charge, saying that leaving the boxes locked until Sept. 1 is not denying anyone the ability to vote because ballots aren’t mailed out until October.
The town is in compliance with state law, which requires the dropboxes be open by Oct. 4.
Currently, the deposit slots on the town’s four election dropboxes — three at Town Hall and one at the Wallingford Senior Center — have been locked since the polls closed on Election Day last year.
Right now, nothing can be placed in the dropboxes, which are for election materials like absentee ballot applications as well as the absentee ballots.
O’Connell said in a statement that by not utilizing the contactless method of submitting absentee ballot applications, “Dickinson’s actions are a blatant attack on free and fair elections, and demonstrate a concerning disregard for the health and safety of Wallingford voters as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to rage.”
While they can’t be placed in the drop boxes yet, absentee ballot applications can be submitted in person at Town Hall or through the mail.
Dickinson said Tuesday that opening the dropboxes sooner than Sept. 1 — a date he and Town Clerk Deborah McKiernan decided upon together — might lead people to think that they would receive a ballot right away.
Municipal clerks begin mailing absentee ballots to voters who requested them three weeks before the election.
“It certainly doesn't speed up anyone’s ability to vote,” he said. “… I don't see it as anything close to trying to discourage people to vote. I just don't understand that argument at all.”
O’Connell also said that using the dropboxes to collect absentee ballot applications sooner than Sept. 1 would give college students who are registered to vote in Wallingford — many of whom return to campus before Sept. 1 — greater opportunity to drop off their applications in a contactless manner.
The state legislature voted in June to continue to allow voters to list COVID-19 as a reason for requesting an absentee ballot.
Voters may request an absentee ballot by completing and signing an application, available online in English and Spanish, and returning it to their municipal clerk in person, by mail or in a dropbox as soon as they are open.