It hasn’t risen to the level of a federal case — not yet, anyway — but the controversy over where to put the absentee ballot drop boxes in Wallingford has turned into a tug-of-war between Town Hall and the State of Connecticut.
The boxes were paid for by the federal CARES Act as part of a
$5.4 million appropriation to cover costs incurred from voting by mail in Connecticut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretary of the State’s office wants them placed in outdoor locations, available to the public 24/7 so that voters won’t have to enter a building and risk contact with staff or other members of the public.
Citing security concerns, however, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. had both of Wallingford’s boxes placed inside Town Hall and accessible only during regular business hours.
Learning of this,
Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates wrote to Dickinson of his “grave concerns about your unwillingness to protect the health and safety of your voters by providing them with a safe and trusted method of contactless delivery of their absentee ballots.”
Then state Sen. Len Fasano rebuked Bates for sending “an accusatory letter to town officials” that “
serves no purpose other than to scare the public.” Fasano, the Republican Senate minority leader, whose district includes Wallingford, pointed out that voters could simply
mail their ballots in, using the postage-paid envelope provided.
Dickinson replied to Bates last week via letter, saying that under the Secretary of the State’s election plan, “there is no requirement that the ballot boxes be placed outside of a facility.”
Fasano argued that an outdoor drop box is subject to possible vandalism, which could destroy some ballots.
While that is certainly possible, it seems unlikely to happen. And in view of the real danger of voters contracting COVID-19, placing at least one of the boxes outdoors — as other towns have done — seems the way to go. In fact, most towns received only one box, to be placed outdoors.
Every ballot mailed out also comes with its own postage-paid envelope. So that is also a safe option for voters.
The boxes were installed for the Aug. 11 primary only. However, on Thursday the state House of Representatives passed a bill in a special session that would allow the use of no-excuse absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 general election as well — and the final language of any bill that passes could grant the Secretary of the State’s office the power to order where towns locate ballot drop boxes.
On balance, though, it might be better for Wallingford to place one of these boxes outdoors. With one indoors and one outdoors, people can make a choice.