Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Dan Fox (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT—A resolution that would ask voters whether to amend the state’s constitution to allow early voting during elections passed the House Thursday by a simple majority.

The House voted 81-65 in favor of sending the question to voters. But because the bill did not pass by at least three-fourths of the membership of the House, it won’t be placed on the 2018 general election ballot.

For it to make the ballot this November it would have to pass both the House and the Senate by a vote of at least three-fourths of its membership.

If it passes by a majority of the membership of the Senate before May 9, it will be referred to the 2019 session of the legislature.

If it passes in that session by a majority of each house in 2019, it will appear on the 2020 general election ballot. If a majority of those voting in the general election approves the amendment, it will become part of the state constitution.

Under the bill, a system would be established by the General Assembly to create an early voting period that would be required to occur during the 14 days preceding an election. 

That period must include at least two and no more than five days of early voting, and at least eight hours during each early voting day. Voters would only be allowed to cast their ballots in the municipality in which they reside.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy applauded the House vote.

“In a democracy, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for the voters of our state to cast their ballots in elections,” Malloy said after the House approved the resolution.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the legislation is an “ important first step to bring Connecticut in line with the majority of states that allow Early Voting to make participating in our democracy more convenient for busy voters.”

Merrill said more than one-third of voters in America voted before Election Day in 2016. 

“it is long past time to allow Connecticut voters to do the same,” she added.

Merrill testified that “Thirty-seven states currently allow their voters to vote in person prior to Election Day.”

And while Republican lawmakers largely opposed the idea, which they said would increase costs to municipalities.

Merrill said early voting would also ease Election Day chaos.

“Many of the lines and delays we experienced in 2016 would have been eased by giving voters the flexibility to cast their ballots in advance, evidenced by the growth in early voting nationwide from about a tenth voters in the 1990s to more than one-third today,” Merrill said.

Rep. Dan Fox, D-Stamford, chair of the Government, Administration and Elections Committee, said the resolution is “enabling legislation and that it’s up to this body” to determine what form early voting in Connecticut looks like.

“The changes to election laws will be made by this body at some point down the road if this resolution passes,” Fox said.

He said the current system where a person has 14 hours on one day to vote “is unworkable for many people who have to work two jobs while caring for their families.”

Republicans, as they have in the past, called the early voting unnecessary and an added expense to municipalities.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Laura Devlin (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, said her research showed that there was a 74 percent voter participation rate in the 2012 election; 77 percent rate in the 2016 election. “That’s significant participation,” she said. “We do have an active electorate already and this would add costs as an unfunded mandate. We have far more important issues in front of us.”

Before the vote on early registration, Rep. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton introduced an amendment requiring that voters present a photo identification before being allowed to vote at the polls.

He said he introduced the amendment “to preserve the integrity of the ballot box.”

The amendment, one of three introduced by Republicans, was defeated 78-68. The vote was largely along party lines – with most Republicans supporting the amendment and most Democrats opposing.

Republicans argued that early voting would increase the potential for fraud.

Instances of voter fraud in Connecticut are rare, but they do happen.

In 2015, former Rep. Christina Ayala of Bridgeport, pleaded guilty to two counts of providing a false statement to the State Elections Enforcement Commission. A 2013 investigation found the former state representative, whose mother was the registrar of voters in Bridgeport, “falsely registered to vote at the address in Bridgeport in July 2009 and remained registered at this address until January 2013.” There also is evidence she ran for elected office twice using the address and applied for funds from the Citizens’ Election Program using the false address, according to the SEEC investigation.

In 2018, two workers for the Democratic candidate in Stratford were charged with absentee voter fraud in a mayoral campaign.

In Connecticut, before the 2016 election, there were 97 cases of voter fraud since 1974.

“There’s never been a voter impersonation case,” Michael Brandi, executive director of the State Elections Enforcement Commission, said in November 2016. “It’s the proverbial solution in search of a problem.”

He said Connecticut has had fraud cases involving voter intimidation, absentee ballot fraud, and people trying to fraudulently register voters, but no one is showing up at polling places pretending to be someone they aren’t.