HARTFORD, CT — With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the verge of signing legislation to allow early voting, Connecticut is now one of only 11 states across the country that requires voters to show up at the polls on Election Day and requires a legally valid excuse to obtain an absentee ballot.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Denise Merrill, surrounded by politicians and proponents who support early voting, announced a new effort to pass legislation calling for a Constitutional Amendment to allow Connecticut voters to enjoy a minimum of three days of early voting.
Currently, voters in the states that have passed legislation are able to use some form of early voting to cast their ballots. In 2018, close to 40 million voters voted prior to the election, a record number for a midterm election.
“A record number of Connecticut citizens registered to vote leading up to the 2018 election, and we had record turnout, despite long lines and heavy rains,” Merrill said at a press conference in her office.
Merrill said that there was a large turnout of voters in the midterms — “65 percent overall and up to 80 percent in some towns.”
She said that turnout caused “some long lines” and caused some people to change their mind about voting. Those lines were most notably in New Haven, but Merrill said even smaller towns experienced long lines of people waiting to vote in an election that saw a huge surge in new voters in Connecticut, especially among young voters.
Early voting would be an immense help in curbing election headaches, Merrill and others said.
“We should continue to remove barriers to Connecticut voters exercising their most fundamental right to vote by joining the overwhelming majority of states that allow their voters to cast a ballot before Election Day,” said Merrill. “This popular, common-sense election reform will help ensure that not only can every Connecticut citizen easily register, but that every registered voter can conveniently vote.”
The earliest Connecticut voters could have a say on early voting will be in the November, 2020 election — and that would only be if both the House and Senate passed legislation this year with a three-quarters vote in both chambers.
The last time Connecticut voters weighed in on early voting was in 2014. It was defeated as 53 percent voted “no” on the ballot question, outnumbering the 47 percent who voted “yes.”
Merrill said she felt that part of the reason is failed was how the question was worded on the ballot. She also said her office would need to do a better job of informing voters about the ballot initiative if it made it that far this time.
Connecticut is one of only 11 states with no early voting provision, and it requires voters to provide an excuse in order to vote by absentee ballot.
Connecticut’s Constitution requires voters to “appear on Election Day” unless they are able to meet one of the requirements in order to vote by absentee ballot. The proposed Constitutional Amendment would require a minimum of three days of in-person voting, and would remove the restrictions on absentee ballots.
Merrill reiterated that the 2018 Connecticut election, with high-interest translating into voters waiting on long lines in the rain, made clear the need for early voting. Early voting will act as a “pressure-relief valve, alleviating long lines at polling places on Election Day,” she said.
She and others at the press conference also reiterated that people who work two jobs or who are dealing with daycare often have difficulty making it to the polls at all, or can’t wait around for hours to vote.
Even though the Democrats have big majorities in both the House and Senate it will take Republicans to jump on board the initiative to get to the magic three-quarters numbers.
Government Administration and Elections Committee Co-Chair Sen. Mae Flexer believes the numbers can be there this year. She and others at the press conference said they didn’t believe the issue was a one that should split parties.
“Many Americans before us fought for and defended our democracy and our right to vote,” Flexer said. “Yet we have failed to make the way we vote work for the lives we lead today. Too many residents of our state still cannot exercise this sacred right.”
Flexer said she hears from college students, seniors, and working people about how difficult it is to vote.
“We need to secure reasonable access to voting for all Connecticut residents and make early voting a reality,” Flexer said.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said early voting is a priority for both himself and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.
Republicans have largely opposed early voting in the past and there’s nothing to indicate they would embrace it this year.
Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said before they have a conversation about changing the constitution they need to ensure the current system is protected from fraud.
“I have concerns about changing the constitution without having a full vision to implement early voting in a way that guarantees fraud cannot occur,” Fasano said Tuesday. “I look forward to discussing these concerns with the Secretary of the State and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
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.
During a debate on the measure last year in the House, Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, said there’s no need for early voting. It would just be another unfunded mandate on municipalities.
Devlin 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.”