First came a tweet asking why we don’t have early voting.
Then several emails, and a few more after that, asking why voting is confined to a single Tuesday in November. It was an issue that was repeated often in the days leading to November 8-why must Americans stand in long lines to exercise their most fundamental right?
With 37 states and the District of Columbia allowing early voting, Connecticut should too. Voters deserve flexibility in casting a ballot, which is why I support early voting in Connecticut.
This was an election year of milestones in many ways. Thanks to conveniences like online voter registration, Election Day Registration and the streamlined motor-voter system-which enables people to register to vote while applying for a driver’s license-Connecticut had a record number of registrations.
More registrations turned into more voters. November 8 saw an all-time high of 1.67 million people who cast a ballot.
Poll workers handled the rush admirably, however, the surge took its toll. There were long lines and overflowing ballot boxes, which required poll workers to move marked ballots into locked containers so more votes could be received. There were reports of polling locations of running out of ballots (which did not happen) and other issues that occur when trying to assist more than 1.5 million people in a single day.
Yet, the more people who vote, the better. So we should ease the crowds by giving voters options. Early voting is one.
Some voters may be asking, didn’t we try this already?
Yes. A few years ago, we proposed (and got on the ballot) a constitutional amendment that would have removed language in the state constitution that limits voting to one day. We never specifically proposed early voting because we wanted to leave any fixes to the legislature.
However, it was hard to make a coherent case for a constitutional amendment that removes something without a positive proposal to put in its place. We should revisit new language that removes the hurdle and specifically recommends early voting.
This could take years, so in the meantime, I suggest an interim solution. We should make a statutory change that would give more flexibility for absentee ballots. This would allow people to vote if they will be out of their district for any period of time (which is most of us since we generally work on Tuesday) rather than “during all of the hours of voting” (i.e., the current law).
As it stands, many people take advantage of absentee ballots, claiming that they’ll be out of the district. Our restrictive law is making liars out of honest citizens who just want to vote.
We have done well in Connecticut to give conveniences to voters and early voting is one of the biggest we can still deliver.
On Friday, the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee approved a proposal that would put the idea back to the voters.
The members gave thoughtful deliberation about how the proposal could be implemented and other related issues like cost.
I am confident that any cost will be offset by savings on Election Day. And we can keep costs low by limiting the number of early voting locations to highly accessible sites like libraries or town halls.
Nevertheless, the proposal will help people exercise their most fundamental right.
For that reason alone, it is worth doing.
Denise Merrill is the Secretary of the State of Connecticut. Follow her at @SOTSMerrill
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