Metal boxes, bolted to the sidewalk, and featuring the state of Connecticut seal, have been placed in front of local city halls, so voters can drop their primary absentee ballot applications there, as well as the ballots to be sent out.
They are at curbside and say: Official Ballot Drop Box.
Gabe Rosenberg, spokesman for the secretary of the state’s office, said the boxes are fabricated by American Security Cabinets, a company that has been in this business for years, serving other states that long have had mail-in voting.
But State Republican Chairman JR Romano Jr. said he doesn’t trust use of the drop boxes.
Contrary to what the secretary of the state’s office said, he does not feel they are safe.
“They are extremely vulnerable to tampering or damage. If we are supposed to trust the Postal Service, why do we need the ballot boxes?” he said.
He said he is not opposed to people voting by mail.
Romano also charged that Connecticut does not have the same protective software as other state’s when it comes to security.
Rosenberg, however, said the safety rules are overseen by the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is part of Homeland Security.
The American Security Cabinets website said they have been in this business for 40 years and the drop boxes are made from high grade, heavy gauge, brushed stainless steel. Rosenberg said they are tamper-proof.
He said many other states have been using mail-in ballots for years, both red states such as Utah and Montana and blue states like Oregon and California.
Officials across the state said the boxes offer a new way for voters to avoid unneeded contact.
In New Haven, one is near the entrance to the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St., where the city clerk’s office is located; another is at the curb near the handicapped entrance to the Hall of Records
May Gardner-Reed, deputy city clerk in New Haven, said they have already received 3,000 applications for absentee ballots for the Aug. 11 primary.
“It is a little bit overwhelming,” she said of the increased numbers of voters taking advantage of an absentee ballot at a time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sec. of the State Denise Merrill has sent out absentee ballot applications to all qualified voters and Gov. Ned Lamont, by executive order, has added fear of the spread of the coronavirus as a reason a voter can opt to use an absentee ballot, rather than vote in person.
The state legislature has to approve using this excuse as a reason to vote by absentee ballot in the Nov. 3 General Election.
Merrill, in an op-ed, said the drop boxes are secure and provide for contact-less delivery of absentee ballots, minimizing risk of infection from COVID-19.
Only the town clerks have keys to the drop boxes.
“No voter should ever have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote. Drop boxes allow voters to cast their ballots safely and conveniently,” Merrill wrote.
In Middletown, Mayor Ben Florsheim said he expects a ballot box to be installed within the next few days between the back of City Hall on deKoven Drive and the Melilli Plaza parking area.
Florsheim, who filled out his absentee ballot application two weeks ago, is pleased the setup will allow voters to drive up to deposit their ballots if they desire. “This is a really important step, and I’m glad Secretary Merrill and Gov. Lamont realize the importance of access to election processes, and also staying safe,” he said.
Absentee voting works well in nearly every other state, said Florsheim, and is especially needed this year due to the pandemic.
Ansonia Republican Registrar of Voters Dave Papcin said there is one box on the right side of the Town Hall building next to the payment dropbox.
“I think it is a safe additional method of absentee ballot delivery if people choose that option,” Papcin said in an email. “It eliminates person-to-person contact, which would reduce potential community spread.”
Papcin said the state “right now” has “been handling this pandemic well, and so I don’t see a downside to this.”
“It may be underutilized, as absentee voters generally mail their ballots back, but it is still another method of making voting accessible,” he said.
In Danbury, two boxes were set up, outside City Hall and the King Street Firehouse, where residents may drop off their absentee ballots. Cameras monitor the boxes 24 hours a day, Mayor Mark Boughton said.
The boxes are emptied daily, with ballots stored in the vault in City Hall until they are to be opened on Election Day in front of moderators from the Republican and Democratic parties, he said.
In Fairfield, according to Town Clerk Betsy Browne, the town is using one of the two drop boxes they were given by the state. She said they put it in front of the Old Town Hall.
“We’ll be emptying it every day and locking the ballots in the vault,” Browne said. “Since we are close to walk-in traffic, I think it’s a great idea. They’re secure right there — it’s bolted.”
Browne said her office had received more than 5,000 absentee ballot applications for the Connecticut primary on Aug. 11, adding that the box will be unlocked starting Wednesday.
Also in Fairfield County, Greewich plans to set up two locations for people to safely drop their absentee ballots for next month’s primary election: At the Public Safety Complex at 1 Bruce Place inside the John B. Margenot Atrium and in the Town Hall guest parking lot at 101 Field Point Road.
“The ability to vote absentee will ensure that the democratic process continues safely and securely,” the Town Clerk’s Department said in a press release.
The primary had originally been scheduled for April but was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Westport Town Clerk Patricia Strauss said the town is expecting to receive one drop box and it will be available 24 hours a day for residents to drop off absentee ballots. Her staff will have keys to the box and plan to check it every morning once it’s installed.
“It’s going to be where the normal entrance of Town Hall is, which is the rear of the building,” Strauss said.
Strauss said her office has received over 3,700 absentee ballot applications for the state primary on Aug. 11.
“The numbers show that our Westport voters are appreciative of the chance to vote by mail instead of going to the polls during this pandemic,” she said.
In New Haven, there are no primary candidates for state representative and state Senate seats, but 12 cities have Democratic primaries for those offices, while there will Republican primary challenges in 14 cities and towns.
Town-by-town sample ballots for the primaries can be seen at the Secretary of the States office. You can also find the list of contenders at the same office.
Listed on the Democratic presidential ballot in the Aug. 11 primary are: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, because they were printed before Sanders and Gabbard dropped out of the contest. On the Republican ballot is Donald Trump and Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente.
Rosenberg said anyone tampering with the ballots would be subject to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison, per ballot. He said federal civil rights laws also apply and potentially mail fraud laws.
Torrington City Clerk Carol Anderson said the city would have two absentee ballot boxes installed outside City Hall sometime this week.
“The good thing about this is, people don’t have to come into the office,” she said. “It will all be handled by mail.”
She has experienced a surge in absentee ballot applications for the primary already. “In 2016, we had less than 400 people voting by absentee ballot. I have more than 2,000 applications in my drawer right now,” she said.
Residents are also calling with questions, and are sometimes worried about the application form for absentee ballots. In response, Anderson and her staff have been doing outreach on Facebook Live with state Rep. Maria Horn, explaining the process and how to fill out the form
Winsted Town Clerk Sheila Sedlak said two mailing boxes from the state were expected this week. But many people have already filled out absentee ballot applications for the primary, and even the presidential election.
“We’ve got about 570 applications,” she said. “And those haven’t come just after the applications went out; people gave me theirs a month ago. And people have already filled out an absentee ballot application for the presidential election, because they’re going to be away, for example.”
Sedlak says she believes in the process.
“I believe (the ballots) are very secure, unlike what you hear,” she said. “A lady I just spoke with now understands that her ballot is going right to her, and that she can just drop it off, or mail it to us, or leave it in the box that the state is providing.”
When filling out the form mailed by the state, voters should also understand what to check off — the first item on the list referring to the COVID-19 virus. Also, they don’t have to fill it out if they don’t want to.
“The state researched this, and because this is an emergency, because of the virus, they were allowed to add it to the list of reasons people are applying,” Sedlak said. “I see this as the state saying, ‘We don’t want to take people’s right to vote away, and we understand that some people are afraid.’ It’s designed so if you fear catching the virus, this is a way you can still vote, and have your vote counted.
“I have people calling and they’re confused, but once I tell them they don’t have to use it, if they want to go to the polls, they understand it,” Sedlak said.
It’s also important for people to remember that the absentee ballot is only for the Aug. 11 primary, not the presidential election.
“We won’t know what’s being done about that yet,” Sedlak said. “There’s a lot that can happen between now and then.”