A New Canaan official responsible for voter registration and education is calling for the town to install a temporary camera with a live feed of the absentee ballot box at Town Hall in order to address the apparent concerns of some citizens.
Absentee ballot box “vigilante” citizen groups appear to “suspect that nefarious goings on by one side or another are affecting the deposit of legitimate ABs [absentee ballots], and that some parties are somehow engaged in Ballot Harvesting operations,” according to Democratic Registrar of Voters John Amarilios.
“I would ask that the Town, following timely advice from counsel, immediately install a temporary camera focused on the immediate area of the box and feed its output not only to a recorder but also to a live TV79 or affiliated school channel feed so that those concerned about such matters can monitor the box remotely in real-time from the safety and comfort of their homes,” Amarilios said in an email sent Saturday to the Board of Selectmen. “This would obviate the need for the presence of any such in-person observer loitering in the vicinity of Town Hall, and would eliminate any voter intimidation issues that the presence of such a person or persons might create.”
The email was addressed to the selectmen and those included as recipients included Town Clerk Claudia Weber, Republican Registrar of Voters Joan McLaughlin, Paul Sedlak and NewCanaanite.com. It wasn’t immediately clear what steps, if any, the selectmen would take in response to Amarilios’s letter.
Election Day is Nov. 8. Those eligible to vote absentee included those who are ill or physically unable to vote in-person on Election Day, those who will be out of town on Election Day and U.S. military members, according to the town clerk’s page on the municipal website. Absentee voting is a two-step process, the website said. People using it must fill out an Absentee Ballot Application and return it to the town clerk. After it’s received and approved, a ballot will be mailed or handed to the voter. Then, the absentee ballot voter must return the ballot to the town clerk prior to the close of polls. “We encourage all voters to use the Official Ballot Drop-Box in front of the main entrance to Town Hall for both applications and absentee ballots,” the municipal website says.
Amarilios in his email also suggest that the police officer who patrols downtown New Canaan “be mindful to keep the area clear of persons milling about the box, if any, until 8 pm on Election Day.” He cites a section of Connecticut General Statutes under which it’s a misdemeanor offense to obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
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It’s probably a good idea. In the last election I was surprised to see how many people were outside the voting place at the high school. Polling places are supposed to be kept free of gatherings to allow people to vote without fear of scrutiny. The drop box is a new kind of polling place and should be treated as one.
Political parties and candidates are allowed to speak with voters, post tents, distribute materials and display signs as long as they are 75 feet from the polling place. In theory, the drop box is not a polling place, because people will have already filled out and sealed their ballots. That said, I suppose there could be intimidation about dropping one’s ballot in the box, but that seems unlikely.