By Lorraine S. Connelly
This month voter drop boxes are cropping up in towns and cities across Connecticut in time for the Aug. 11 primary election. Eligible primary voters will have the option to either cast a mail-in or drop-off absentee ballot this year. According to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the idea is to offer an alternative to in-person voting at polling places during the pandemic crisis.
In a recent interview with Connecticut Public Radio, Merrill stated, “Nationally we know that people are worried about contracting COVID if they come into contact with people” adding “and there are people that are very vulnerable.”
By all accounts, the boxes are secure and are specifically designed for voting, and better yet, they come at No Cost to the Town. According to this paper’s reporting, the boxes were paid for with federal dollars through the CARES Act, which appropriated $5.4 million to Connecticut to cover costs incurred from voting by mail.
So, why then the recent controversy over the placement of these drop boxes? Other municipalities have chosen to place the boxes outside for greater visibility and accessibility to the public. Mayor William W. Dickinson, Jr. would like to have the boxes located inside Town Hall for security reasons and out of vandalism concerns.
In mid-May, Wallingford’s Town Hall closed after an employee exhibited symptoms of COVID-19. Although the employee’s test returned negative, Town Health Director Stephen Civitelli, acknowledged that there had been a total of five town employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, including a police officer who has since recovered.
In view of the recent health scare at Town Hall, one wonders why the mayor feels inside Town Hall is a safer placement for these drop boxes. Is his position really borne out of concern for security or is it a matter that the state should not be allowed to determine what location is most secure, as State Sen. Len Fasano of the 90th District, has chimed in?
A longtime resident of Wallingford, I’ve spent half of my adult life, 32 years, working and raising a family here. Through the years, I’ve witnessed a misdirected attempt at an exceptionalism that has caused Wallingford to be viewed as contrarian on certain issues.
Twenty years ago, out of 169 Connecticut towns, only Wallingford Town Hall employees did not observe Martin Luther King Day. The media became aware of this exceptionalism, and the non-observance made national headlines — an irksome distinction.
Wallingford was suddenly cast in a negative light. In an Easter sermon in New Haven, the activist Rev. Al Sharpton threatened protests and a lawsuit against the Town. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was invited to attend a prayer service at St. Paul's Episcopal Church and then lead a candlelight vigil to Town Hall.
Prior to this, the mayor had agreed to observe the holiday only if the employees’ union agreed to surrender an existing holiday in return. The unions rejected the deal and a stalemate ensued until the state legislature finally passed a bill forcing a holiday shutdown.
And here we are 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, and Wallingford finds itself once again in opposition and under harsh glare. It was only last summer that the mayor announced that he was running for his 19th consecutive term. As usual he made his announcement donned in historic garb, this time fashionably dressed as one of the Three Musketeers. He extolled the credo, "One for all and all for one." The oft-quoted phrase, “One for all” means each person contributes to the whole. The other half of the phrase holds equal weight. “All for one” means that nobody is left behind. Let’s live up to that creed and make sure that this election season, in which health concerns are being weighed against civic duty, that voter turnout is not discouraged and that no Wallingford voter is left behind.
Lorraine S. Connelly is a longtime resident of Wallingford and makes frequent trips to Town Hall as a Justice of the Peace.