Democratic legislative leaders may expedite a bill in the next several weeks to allow expanded absentee ballot voting in this year’s elections, mirroring temporary policies adopted during the past two years as a result of the COVID pandemic.
“Voting is the fundamental right underlying our entire democracy,” majority Democrats said in a joint statement Wednesday. “While other states are restricting voting rights, we will take action to ensure that everyone that was able to vote before COVID will continue to be able to vote this year as COVID persists.”
Connecticut’s constitution does not allow early voting and restricts absentee ballot voting to a handful of specific excuses, like active duty military service, religious beliefs, or sickness.
But while Democratic lawmakers have sought to ease those restrictions both by amending the constitution and broadening the definition of the existing excuses, state policymakers allowed anyone to access an absentee ballot during the last two years in an effort to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Although state COVID metrics have continued to decline in recent weeks following a surge of the highly-infectious omicron variant, the Democrats who control both chambers of the legislature signaled Wednesday they intended to make sure the absentee option remained available in 2022.
“We’re hoping to do it soon, within a matter of weeks if we can just get precisely the language that we need to make it work,” Senate President Martin Looney said.
The details of the proposal were not yet finalized this week, however House Speaker Matt Ritter said it may resemble a bill passed last year by the House but not adopted by the Senate. The legislation would have expanded the statutory definition of sickness so voters could more easily qualify for an absentee ballot.
“We expect to come in in the next two to three weeks and we will deal with absentee ballot voting for the rest of the year,” Ritter said. “So voting will be a big, big deal and we’ll get to that very quickly. It may very well be an emergency certified bill on early voting.”
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said he was troubled by the notion of emergency certifying a bill and speeding it past the traditional committee process. Although Candelora said he did not see no excuse absentee ballots as a partisan issue, he said Republicans felt more safeguards were needed to ensure no one fraudulently obtained one.
Candelora said he did not believe Democrats could permanently allow no excuse absentee ballots without first amending the state constitution.
“I don’t think they believe it either because why would they initiate a constitutional amendment if they think they can do it statutorily,” Candelora said. “That’s something that needs to be reconciled before they continue on their path.”
The legislature is in the midst of an attempt to amend the constitution but it is proceeding slower than proponents would like.
Last year lawmakers passed a resolution that would allow voters to consider an amendment to remove absentee ballot restrictions. But Republican opposition prevented it from receiving the super majority vote necessary to send it directly to voters. As it stands now, the resolution will need to be approved by the legislature again after this year’s election. That means the soonest voters could weigh in would be 2024.
On Thursday, Candelora noted Connecticut voters have considered and dismissed the concept in the past, having voted down a similar amendment in 2014.
“Last time it was on the ballot, the voters rejected it,” he said. “This isn’t a matter of Republicans blocking an initiative. It’s the voters of Connecticut who didn’t want it almost 10 years ago and what has changed?”