Ballot box outside Hartford City Hall Credit: Christine Stuart photo

When Connecticut approved absentee ballot drop boxes it was recommended that they be placed in a secure location that was well-lit and on-camera. However, the on-camera part wasn’t mandated.

That means Connecticut towns are taking varied approaches to the surveillance of absentee ballot boxes in the weeks leading up to Election Day. This comes in the wake of an ongoing civil trial in Bridgeport that has highlighted potential vulnerabilities in ballot security.

In Enfield, a decision was made to install cameras at three ballot drop box locations, partly due to concerns raised by the Bridgeport incident.

Connecticut currently has 250 drop boxes distributed across the state. While major cities received four boxes each, smaller towns received one or two based on population size. The decision to install security cameras, however, lies with the individual towns, a tradition tracing back to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when the boxes were first installed. Many municipalities, like Windsor, placed its boxes strategically within the view of existing security cameras.

A video released by Democratic challenger John Gomes, showing a city employee stuffing a Bridgeport ballot box, has caused statewide concern. The video’s release led to increased scrutiny, especially since Gomes, despite receiving more machine votes than incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim, lost the primary due to absentee votes.

The conversation surrounding the security of ballot boxes isn’t just limited to cameras.

The recent Bridgeport incident has reignited debates over the necessity of these drop boxes. During a special legislative session in September, state Republicans proposed eliminating the boxes, arguing their relevance has diminished in the post-COVID era. House Republican leader, Vincent Candelora of North Branford, has voiced concerns about potential voter fraud, particularly in Bridgeport. However, House Speaker Matt Ritter has defended the boxes, stating that removing them from towns with no complaints or problems is unnecessary.

Originally a temporary solution for the 2020 elections due to the pandemic, the boxes were made permanent after seeing significant use. They played a crucial role in accommodating voters hesitant to visit indoor polls. In the November 2020 general election, 35% of Connecticut voters used absentee ballots, a number which saw a spike during the pandemic but has since decreased.

Despite reduced numbers, some officials, remain advocates for the boxes, emphasizing their importance in ensuring ballots are counted timely, especially close to Election Day. Windsor Town Clerk Anna Posniak said the incidence of rejection of absentee ballots was greatly reduced since they have been installed.

“We want to make sure there is transparencies in elections,” Posniak said Friday. “If somebody wants to see that video of the absentee drop box it should be there.”

Posniak suggested that the cost would be minimal because there would be less of a requirement for storage. She said under state law security videos only have to be retained for two weeks. However, she suggested that town officials discuss keeping that video for at least two weeks following an election.

Posniak said election officials work hard to ensure elections are fair and this is just one more transparency tool.

Tolland Town Manager Brian Foley said for less than $1,000 a town can get a camera on a drop box. He said they have one in Tolland and it costs about $10 to $12 per month to maintain.

As the election nears, the debate over the balance between accessibility and security continues to shape the Connecticut electoral landscape.