Lawmakers on the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee plan to raise a bill Wednesday that would loosen restrictions on Connecticut voters looking to cast absentee ballots during this year’s elections.
The committee included the concept on its agenda for its first meeting of the year at noon. On Tuesday, Sen. Will Haskell, a Westport Democrat and vice chair of the committee, said the issue was a focus for both chambers during this session.
“Both Senate Democrats and House Democrats have really prioritized this issue,” Haskell said. “A lesson learned from the 2020 election is the increased access to absentee ballots made our democracy more accessible, more inclusive, and more representative.”
The Democratic leaders of both chambers issued a joint statement earlier this month announcing their plan to pass the bill, which would continue a temporary policy the state adopted to shield voters from exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
However, Republican lawmakers have been critical of attempts to continue the policy as the severity of the pandemic has dwindled. 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.
On Tuesday, the Conservative Caucus issued a press release calling attempts to allow no-excuse absentee voting a violation of the state constitution. Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, said the legislature has only continued Connecticut’s state of emergency to continue qualifying for increased federal reimbursements.
“Compounding this deceitfulness by using COVID-19 as a continuing pretext to unconstitutionally change our voting laws would be an abhorrent affront to the rule of law,” Mastrofrancesco said.
The legislature has begun the process of amending the constitution but the change is proceeding slower than proponents would like.
Last year lawmakers passed a resolution to put the question of removing constitutional restrictions before Connecticut voters. However, Republican opposition prevented it from receiving the super majority vote necessary to allow it to appear on ballots this year. As it stands now, the resolution will need to be approved by the legislature again after the 2022 election. The earliest voters could weigh in would be in 2024.