Courtesy of CT-N
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill testifies to the GAE Committee (Courtesy of CT-N)

HARTFORD, CT — While the legislature plans to debate allowing absentee ballots for the November election later this week, a Superior Court judge rejected Republican claims that no-excuse absentee ballots are unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday. It’s similar to the lawsuit brought earlier this week by four Republican candidates for Congress. On Monday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Robinson dismissed the same case, agreeing with the state that the Supreme Court was the wrong venue for the complaint. 

The Republican plaintiffs, represented by Proloy Das of Murtha Cullina, are expected to appeal Tuesday’s decision.

Meanwhile, absentee ballots were mailed Tuesday to voters across the state who requested them for the Aug. 11 primary.

Prior to the spread of the novel coronavirus, Connecticut law required would-be absentee voters to show that either religious reasons or some illness or physical disability would prevent them from casting a ballot in person.

“There is no pandemic exception to the Connecticut Constitution,” Das said in court documents.

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order to allow no-excuse absentee ballots to be shared with voters for the Aug. 11 primary, but the General Assembly will need to pass legislation this week for the same arrangements to be allowed for the November election.

The Government Administration and Elections Committee held a three-hour public hearing Tuesday on allowing no-excuse absentee ballots in November.

Alex Knopp, an attorney and former lawmaker, warned the committee that there will be litigation over what they pass and they need to decide now who exactly would be allowed to cast an absentee ballot.

“Please make sure the language is clear, unambiguous, and covers all those who need protection in order to protect all those who risk going out to vote during the pandemic,” Knopp said.

Michelle Jacklin, a board member of Common Cause, said she was asked to work the polls, but declined due to her age.

“In addition, it would be an extreme hardship to wear PPE from 5:15 in the morning, the required starting time for poll workers, until 9 or 10 at night,” Jacklin said.

She said she doesn’t see anything changing with COVID-19 between now and November.

“This bill brings us in line with the rest of the county,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, at the online hearing.

Merrill said the legislation will allow voters who are afraid of coronavirus to vote by absentee.

“This bill before you is absolutely necessary in order for the plan to work,” Merrill told the GAE committee.

She said the 2020 election will be “unlike any election we’ve ever seen,” and the legislation allows for fear of COVID-19 to be used as an excuse to avoid showing up at a polling place on Election Day. It also allows anyone in line by 8 p.m. at a polling place to be able to vote using the Election Day Registration process.

“You can see that COVID has laid bare the limitations of our constitutional provisions, which were put in place 100 years ago,” Merrill said. “It’s no surprise that they may need a little amendment.”

Merrill said 75% of the House and the Senate need to vote in favor of no-excuse absentee ballots and early voting to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters. She said if they don’t do that sometime later in 2020, it will be 2026 before any form of early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots can become a reality.

“That’s a very long time for people to wait,” Merrill said.