According to testimony during Wednesday’s State Election Enforcement Commission meeting, this image of a West Haven ballot box was captured by West Haven Town Clerk Patricia Horvath two days after the Aug. 11 primary last year.

Connecticut election regulators dismissed concerns Wednesday that a photo of an absentee ballot drop box, twice-cited during legislative hearings, cast doubt on the security of ballot drop boxes. 

During a Wednesday meeting, the State Elections Enforcement Commission dismissed a matter concerning a photograph of an election drop box, which depicted absentee ballot envelopes sticking out of its chute door. The box was not overflowing, as some have suggested. It was locked because the photo was taken two days after an election, regulators concluded.

The photograph has been cited by state Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Southington, during two hearings of the Government Administration and Elections Committee. Sampson, who said he did not know where the photo originated, has used it to question the chain of custody and security of the ballots deposited in the drop boxes.

During hearings last month, Sampson referred to the photo while questioning Secretary of the State Denise Merrill as she testified before the committee. He suggested the box was overfilled, potentially leaving ballots subject to theft or tampering.

“There’s a problem when you have drop boxes that are not monitored. I have seen a photograph of our drop boxes from the previous election stuffed so full of ballots,” he said on March 5, according to a filing with the commission.

“I don’t know that there’d be a way for someone to doctor this photo or something like that. I just – it’s a concern I have, that, what if that did happen? What if the box overfilled and people are leaving their ballot envelopes hanging out of the slip or the door?” Sampson said on March 10.

Sampson forwarded the photo to Merrill’s office, which referred it to the election enforcement regulators. After an investigation, the commission’s staff concluded the photograph was not doctored but it also did not depict an overflowing ballot box.

The picture was taken last year by West Haven Town Clerk Patricia Horvath on Aug.13, two days after the Aug. 11 primary election. Although Gov. Ned Lamont issued an executive order allowing town clerks to count ballots as late as Aug. 13, those ballots had to be mailed and postmarked by Aug. 11. The box in the photo had been locked after polls closed. Beneath the envelopes in the picture, the words “kiosk closed” were printed in bold capital letters.

“Based on the above investigation, the Commission concludes that the photograph in question does not appear to portray an ‘overfilled’ drop box as characterized by Sen. Sampson, but rather a drop box with a locked ‘anti-tamper chute’,” the commission’s chairman, Stephen Penny, wrote in the group’s findings. 

According to Ryan Burns, a lawyer for the election enforcement panel, the box was never in danger of overflowing.

“The investigation further confirmed that the total number of absentee ballots collected both via mail and ballot drop box in West Haven were approximately 51% of the capacity of the absentee ballot box in question. Thus, even if the ballot box had never been checked – which it was – such box would not have been overflowing,” Burns said.

The election commission dismissed the matter on a voice vote.

The regulators’ conclusions did not allay Sampon’s concerns about the photograph or drop boxes in general.

“I don’t feel that much better about it because clearly the people that put their ballots in there had an expectation that their votes would be counted,” he said Wednesday.

Sampson said he is still worried about the security of the boxes and chain of custody issues they raise. His biggest concern stemmed from ballots deposited in the boxes over weekends when town clerks may not be checking them daily.

Gabe Rosenberg, Merrill’s communications director, said the regulators’ conclusions validated the security of the boxes, which allowed many Connecticut residents to safely cast votes during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We have gotten the most secure possible drop boxes on the market from a vendor that’s been making them for other states for decades and they are manufactured to the highest state regulations in the country. We’ve done everything we can to make them secure,” he said.