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HARTFORD, CT — The Senate took steps Tuesday to give voters a choice to vote by absentee ballot or go to the polling place on Election Day.

The Senate passed the bill 35 to 1. Sen. Dennis Bradley, D-Bridgeport, voted against the measure.

Mae Flexer, D-Windham, said she knows how scary it is to leave the house during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tuesday was the first day she left her newborn baby, Rose, to come to the state Capitol for the special session.

She said no one should be scared to exercise their right to vote.

“This legislation recognizes the unique moment we are in,” Flexer said. “And allows for voters to make a choice of how they will participate.”

The legislation will only allow no-excuse absentee ballots for the November 3 election.

Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he will be voting for the bill, but he would have liked to have the ability to change it. He can’t do that now because the House adjourned.

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Both chambers have to pass the same bill in order to get it to the governor’s desk for a signature.

“There are changes I would like to see made to this bill,” Sampson said.

He said the public is getting a mixed message that it’s safe to go to the store and social distance, but it’s not safe to go to a polling location and social distance.

Sampson said every person’s vote matters as much as every other person’s vote and some of the provisions in the bill put that in jeopardy. However, Sampson voted in favor of the bill after about an hour of debate and two failed amendments.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Republicans are not against voting by absentee ballot.

“Look I think you’re going to find my caucus is very supportive of the absentee ballot bill in the middle of COVID, think you’re going to find for this extraordinary time we’re fine with it,” Fasano said. 

Fasano said the concern has been with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s decision to mail absentee ballot applications for the Aug. 11 primary.

The legislation is silent about whether she can do that.

Fasano said he’s concerned someone could put something into the ballot box to destroy ballots, but there’s also concern about the mailing of the absentee ballots.

“There are problems with the absentee ballots being mailed,” Fasano said.

He said there are going to be disenfranchised voters due to her actions, not due to this legislation.

He said duplicate applications and ballots have been mailed to voters.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said there are voters who are frightened to go to the polls and this legislation will help them exercise their right to vote.

“We want to make sure people are able to exercise their franchise without having to choose between risking their health and exercising the right to vote,” Looney said.

He said there’s already a higher number of absentee ballots being returned than in a normal primary year.