House Speaker Matt Ritter (Christine Stuart File Photo)
House Speaker Matt Ritter (Christine Stuart File Photo)

Democratic House leaders said Tuesday they plan to hold votes within the next week to authorize referendums on constitutional amendments easing restrictions to absentee ballots and allowing early voting. 

House Speaker Matt Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas told reporters they would raise both resolutions, likely on separate days, by next Tuesday. They have planned a vote on the measure to allow early voting on Thursday. That proposal has had some support among Republicans and requires only a simple majority vote to appear before voters next year. 

The resolution to ease restrictions on absentee ballots faces a much steeper hurdle. In order to appear on the ballot next year, it must pass with a 75% majority in both chambers of the legislature. In the House, that means supporters must find 114 votes and Democrats, who largely support the change, control 96 seats. 

“Right now, I’m nervous that we’re not going to be able to get to 75%,” Ritter said. “I don’t want to let people think that I’m overly optimistic. It’s going to require bipartisan support and I’m just not sure we’re going to get there right now. But we’ll see.” 

Connecticut’s constitution contains specific language on the state’s voting rules. In order to make laws allowing for early voting or using absentee ballots without certain “excuses,” lawmakers need voters to approve changes to the constitution.  

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he does not expect Republican support for the absentee ballot question unless Democrats amend the resolution to include more safeguards to ensure the integrity of the ballots. Among other security provisions, Candelora said Republicans would like to see some form of signature verification. 

“As members of the minority party, we want to make sure that appropriate safeguards are in place for people when they’re voting,” he said. “I think this will stay party-line if there are no reasonable tweaks to the proposal.”

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has maintained that the expanded use of absentee ballots in Connecticut has been secure.

If supporters are unable to attract Republican support and the resolution passes, but only by a simple majority, it would need to be approved a second time by the legislature in another year, which would delay a referendum vote until at least 2024. 

Democratic leaders said they waited to debate the resolutions until after special elections had solidified their numbers. On Tuesday, Ritter said he was trying to identify a day where lawmakers were free and willing to stay and debate the bill potentially late into the night. 

They plan to hold a press conference Thursday with Merrill and other supporters of easing Connecticut’s voting laws. 

Proponents have put the absentee ballot question before Connecticut voters before. In 2014, voters rejected a similar question. Rojas said he believed that the 2020 election may have changed the perspectives of some voters. 

All registered voters were permitted to use absentee ballots last year, a temporary change made in an effort to protect residents’ ability to exercise their vote safely during the pandemic. Given the opportunity, more than 650,000 people opted to cast absentee ballots. 

“After a year in which a lot of Connecticut residents decided to avail themselves of the opportunity to vote by absentee ballot, I imagine that legislators on both sides of the aisle recognize that and perhaps it’s a strong preference of voters to have that option available to them,” Rojas said.

However, Ritter did not sound optimistic. If supporters fail to meet the 75% threshold, the House speaker suggested the issue may be easier settled in court. 

“Someone should sue. I don’t think our constitution is constitutional with respect to the way we limit absentee ballot voting. I think as society has changed, as norms have changed, I think there’s a case to be made there,” he said. “It might be quicker than waiting five years, but we’ll see.”