WALLINGFORD, CT — The battle over the placement of Wallingford’s absentee ballot drop boxes continued Thursday with State Sen. Len Fasano criticizing an official with the Secretary of the State’s office. Deputy Secretary of the State Scott Bates sent Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. a letter this week instructing the town to place at least one ballot drop box outside of Town Hall.
Fasano, the Republican Senate minority leader whose district includes Wallingford, told Bates in a letter his office has no “authority over where Wallingford places the drop box.”
“Therefore, your letter has no bearing over Wallingford and serves no purpose other than to scare the public,” Fasano wrote. “If you are truly concerned about people's health and the placement of Wallingford’s drop box, I would think you would be encouraging people in Wallingford who choose to vote by absentee ballot to mail in their ballots with the postage paid envelope your office provided, instead of sending an accusatory letter to town officials.”
Unlike nearby municipalities such as Cheshire, Meriden and Southington, Wallingford planned to keep its ballot collection boxes inside Town Hall. Those municipalities each received two ballot drop boxes through the federal CARES Act as the state expands absentee ballot use for next month's primary election during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dickinson previously told the Meriden Record-Journal he planned to keep the drop boxes inside Town Hall due to security and vandalism concerns. Dickinson this week reopened Town Hall to the public to conduct business. The exterior doors at Town Hall had been locked since March 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Critics have said keeping the ballot boxes inside Town Hall limits accessibility to the public to only weekday business hours. In response to a Neighbor Post question on Wallingford Patch, several residents said they wanted to see the ballot boxes placed outside.
State Representative Mary Mushinsky, a Democrat who represents Wallingford, wrote that another way “to provide security and prevent vandalism might be to ask the Police Dept. if they would allow the ballot box at their offices. Police were willing to take expired prescription drug dropouts when Coalition for a Better Wallingford needed a safe place.”
In his letter to Dickinson, Bates said the Secretary of the State’s office has "grave concerns" about his "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, the Record-Journal reports.
Read Fasano’s full letter to Bates below:
I am writing to you regarding a letter you sent to the town of Wallingford concerning the town's placement of an absentee ballot drop box inside town hall.
As you are already aware, the Secretary of the State's Office does not have authority over where Wallingford places the drop box. Therefore, your letter has no bearing over Wallingford and serves no purpose other than to scare the public. If you are truly concerned about people's health and the placement of Wallingford’s drop box, I would think you would be encouraging people in Wallingford who choose to vote by absentee ballot to mail in their ballots with the postage paid envelope your office provided, instead of sending an accusatory letter to town officials.
The Secretary of the State said at yesterday's Government Administration & Elections Committee listening session when questioned about the potential for tampering with the drop boxes that while she personally believes tampering is highly unlikely, nothing is ever absolutely preventable. No one can ever guarantee anything won't happen to an unattended outdoor drop box, but Wallingford is taking steps to go above and beyond to prevent tampering, to ensure security, and to make sure no one's vote becomes disenfranchised by a bad actor. As I have raised to the Secretary of the State multiple times even before the Governor's executive order was issued, drop boxes can be tampered with if outside and unmonitored. Liquid can be poured in, ballots can be destroyed, and people's right to vote can be put at risk. Wallingford, and any town or city in our state, has every right to place the drop box in a location they deem secure to protect the right of people to vote. If someone doesn't feel comfortable going inside a town hall building, they have every right and opportunity to mail in their ballot without ever having to leave home.
To say in your letter that a drop box indoors would make voters reliant on town hall staff to have access to vote is not accurate. Anyone can choose to mail in their absentee ballot from the comfort and safety of their own home. If the goal is to give voters the easiest method to deliver their absentee ballot in a contactless method, then mailing from home is the best option. If the Secretary of the State is going to set up unattended drop box collection sites, they need to be secure and towns can, should and, in fact, are allowed to determine what location is most secure.
To suggest that any town by placing a drop box indoors is showing "unwillingness to protect the health and safety of your voters" is a troubling and baseless attack on the good people who work hard every day to protect their constituents. Our mayors, first selectmen, and other local leaders have been facing enormous, unimaginable challenges in the last few months and have worked to make sure citizens are protected no matter where they are in town – from schools to parks to libraries to private businesses. Protecting the health and safety of their citizens has been and will continue to be their top concern.
Since Secretary Merrill has begun serving as Secretary of the State we have not had a single statewide election run without any problems and without someone's right to vote being disenfranchised. From incorrect ballots, to running out of ballots, to absentee issues, the list is long for errors in a system overseen by the Secretary of the State. Yet all of these issues are always swept under the rug, blamed on someone else and ignored in favor of highlighting successes. You have a duty to protect everyone's right to vote and that includes being honest about potential issues and addressing them head on. You have left towns with relevant and warranted security concerns with little choice but to place drop boxes in areas where they deem safe so they can protect their citizens' rights to vote.
I find it concerning that you are criticizing a town for taking steps to protect ballots and make sure a proper vote takes place, and yet time after time your office has neglected and failed to make changes to our statewide election system to ensure it runs smoothly and fairly.