By: Sarah Crowe
Connecticut citizens are surprisingly constrained when it comes to voting, and they are being left in the lurch while lawmakers wrestle with making elections more accessible. Currently, in-person voting is only permitted on Election Day, and early voting is not permitted at all. Furthermore, a voter must be outside their municipality during all polling hours to qualify for an absentee ballot. House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, a Democrat from Hartford, declares: “We make it as hard as any state in the country to vote and to exercise your constitutional right. That’s the bottom line.” In an effort to ameliorate the situation, lawmakers have proposed joining the thirty-seven other states that have adopted early voting. This proposal requires a constitutional amendment, and the lengthy process for such an action means that voters would likely not see any change to their voting laws for years.
The process for amending the Connecticut constitution began in April 2018, when the House of Representatives passed a resolution allowing for a referendum on early voting. 81 representatives voted for the bill, and 65 voted against it – a simple majority, not the three-quarters approval required in order to pass a constitutional amendment – meaning that if the Senate approves the bill, it must then be voted on again by the legislature. If the resolution survives that vote, this referendum will make it on the ballot in 2020: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to allow the General Assembly to provide opportunities for early voting in person during the fourteen days prior to the day of an election?” Should the citizens of Connecticut decide that the answer is yes, the General Assembly would pass such legislation in 2021. This would allow early voting in the 2022 elections.
As the bill works its way through the labyrinthine process, the legislators themselves also wrestle with the prospect of voting expansion. While three Republicans crossed party lines to vote for the resolution in the House of Representatives, others argue that early voting is costly and unnecessary. Republicans contend that Connecticut’s 77 percent voter turnout in 2016 means that access to the polls is not a problem, and that resources would be better spent preventing voter fraud. A proposal to audit absentee ballots as well as a voter ID law both failed to pass in the House of Representatives. Democrat Roland Lemar, of New Haven, said of the measures, “Since 2000 there are 31 total documented cases of voter fraud over 1 billion ballots that were cast in this time. You are literally 75 times more likely to be hit by lightning than to see a case of voter fraud in Connecticut.”
Ultimately, Connecticut voters aren’t going to see any voting expansion within the next couple of years due to the difficulty in passing a constitutional amendment. However, the potential benefits from early voting are valuable enough that the wait will be worth it. Confining voting to a single day prevents people who work long hours or can’t make it to the polls for other reasons from participating in their electoral system. A referendum and amendment will hopefully allow voters to be able to enjoy early voting in the 2022 elections.