Krystal Webb recently visited a “State of Connecticut Official Ballot Drop Box” outside Bloomfield Town Hall. Webb is voting absentee for the first time this year.
“I never would have done it before,” Webb said, adding that she isn’t taking any chances with her health. “Strictly because of COVID and just trying to be safe.”
And she also doesn’t want to take any chances with her vote.
“I feel more safe dropping [it] in the ballot box than just putting it in the mail and hoping it gets here,” Webb said.
A recent national poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 34% of Americans plan to vote absentee in the upcoming presidential election. The state of Connecticut is expecting a record number of absentee ballots as residents stay away from the polls amid the pandemic.
As Connecticut residents became infected with COVID-19, the state worked to change the game for voting in this year’s general election. It looked at an exemption for sick residents who can’t get to the polls, redefining it so that the potential for COVID-19 transmission was enough for all registered Nutmeggers to get an absentee ballot.
The state has mailed 2.1 million absentee ballot applications, and according to the secretary of the state’s office, more than a quarter of them have been returned.
But the emphasis on absentee balloting has been a source of consternation for local officials. Connecticut Attorney General William Tong joined a federal lawsuit aiming to ensure that mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service gets where it needs to go this election season; local Republicans said in a July special session that ballot boxes were susceptible to vandalism.
Still, some voters seem comfortable with their voting options.
“We have soldiers overseas that they’re still allowed to vote and it’s got to still get here one way or another,” said Justin Merchant as he stood outside the Killingly Town Hall in the borough of Danielson.
“I'm not really worried about it -- it's federal law,” he said. “You can't mess with the mail.”
When Merchant finally fills out his ballot, which he said was sitting in his kitchen, he’ll vote absentee for the first time in his life.
“I have a newborn at home, so for me to go out and be with the public -- I don’t want to be,” Merchant said. “The town of Killingly -- this area -- our numbers have been very low, and I would rather keep it that way and keep us separated -- keep doing what we’re doing right now.”
Pegi Breckel, who has lived in Killingly for 15 years, is also voting absentee but only because she’s working the polls on Election Day.
“I’m not that concerned about health, because I think they’re doing a fine job,” Breckel said. “I think our governor here in Connecticut has done an excellent job in keeping us all as safe as we can be.”
It’s a risky proposition to be in public during a pandemic, particularly at a time when cases have been on the rise in Connecticut. But Breckel said COVID-19 won’t keep her from performing a civic duty.
“If I was that concerned about my health, I would still do it because I love democracy and I love America, and this is the least that I can do in my own little way to continue with our democratic system,” Breckel said.
Others say they’re fine voting in person. Zach Smith -- he’s from Pomfret -- won’t vote absentee.
“I did get an absentee ballot, but I’m more inclined to vote on Election Day, so I can cast my vote to see what will happen,” Smith said, “and I want to make sure that I can get my vote in safely and securely so that my voice gets heard as to what the next four years for what America will be.”
Smith points to a commonality shared by many others in these uncertain times -- the idea of trust.
Tia Garvey of Bloomfield said the topic of trust comes up in conversations with family and friends.
“Nobody trusts anything,” Garvey said. “Nobody trusts going out to vote. They want to be in control of how they vote.”
Garvey was on the way back to the car from the ballot box in Bloomfield. She felt the act would be the best way to make her vote count.
“There’s just too much conversation on voter fraud for me,” Garvey said.
It’s not just about exercising the right to vote for Garvey, it’s about what her vote represents. Social justice for Black people is the main issue driving her this year.
“We have been through so much this year and dealt with so many things on top of COVID, on top of Breonna Taylor -- we just want justice,” Garvey said. “We just want peace. We want to know that we’re going to be OK.
“I know some people call me and they’re like, ‘What am I going to do? What, what is this world coming to?’” she said. “We just want a leader that’s going to advocate for us.”
Garvey and the rest of Connecticut are getting their say as ballots pour in. A recent law enacted by state legislators allows local towns and cities to get a four-day head start on processing ballots -- if they choose. That could shed some light on how residents voted on, or shortly thereafter, Election Day.