It didn’t receive the three-fourths majority it needed to go straight to the voters in November, but a resolution that would amend the state constitution to change how people vote passed the House, 97-50.
The resolution received broad bipartisan support in previous years but the vote fell mostly along party lines Wednesday because Republicans said it opened the door to more than just no-excuse absentee ballots.
Currently, the constitution limits absentee ballots to people who will be out-of-state, are disabled, or are unable to go to the polls on Election Day because of their religion.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the resolution removed any reference to absentee voting, which means the legislature could implement some type of early voting.
“Early voting is a very different prospect. Do not confuse voting by absentee ballot with or without excuses equal to early voting. It is not the same thing,” Cafero said.
Rep. Russ Morin, D-Wethersfield, said the resolution doesn’t change anything, but instead simply gives voters an opportunity to determine how they want to conduct the elections.
“Our society has changed. People are working longer hours,” Morin said.
But Cafero said that if they remove the provision from the constitution then they don’t have to go back to the voters for approval every time they want to make a change to the state’s voting laws. He said the language is in the constitution because it’s supposed to be hard.
New Jersey is the only state that allows no-excuse absentee ballots, Morin said, adding that six states allow early voting and 27 states allow both.
Morin said it is absurd of argue that lawmakers will look to change everything about elections if the resolution becomes law.
“To say that we’re changing election day from Tuesday to another day — I have a feeling that in the land of steady habits people will always want to go to the polls and cast their ballots,” Morin said. “I don’t think we’re changing anything except the opportunities to discuss it and look for better ways to do it.”
Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said Democrats continue to tout the fact that this measure will increase turnout when voter turnout is driven largely by what’s on the ballot.
“This bill might be moving a little too fast, too soon,” Hwang said.
Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, said he doesn’t think the resolution is about absentee voting or getting people to vote.
“This is about whether or not we take all of the language, all of the restrictions for voting, and do away with them and move all power with respect to setting voting procedures to the General Assembly,” Hetherington said. “I’d like to suggest maybe it’s not a good thing.”
Cafero called it a “recipe for unintended consequences.”
He said the House clearly has the votes to pass no-excuse absentee ballots and believes there’s enough support in both chambers to get it on the November ballot. But the Democratic majority rejected the Republican amendment that sought to do just that.
The resolution now heads to the Senate. If passed there, it will be reconsidered by the General Assembly that convenes in 2013 and, if re-passed, would be a ballot question placed before voters in the 2014 statewide election.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill advocated for the resolution. She said she was disappointed it didn’t receive the votes it needed to get onto the November ballot, but was pleased it passed.
“This is the third year the language is being introduced,” Merrill said. “I think it’s a little surprising that it’s as partisan as it has become.”
Merrill said she doesn’t know what changed, but the resolution is moving forward and could be implemented as early as 2016.