Absentee ballot application
The absentee ballot application reads that you must put in an excuse to make use of your absentee ballot application. Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

The state Senate gave final passage Wednesday to a bill expanding the conditions under which Connecticut voters can qualify for an absentee ballot, making mail-in voting easier for commuters and residents worried about illnesses. 

The Senate sent the bill to the governor’s desk on a 30 to 4 vote Wednesday afternoon. The House approved the legislation on a bipartisan basis last week. 

Although Connecticut’s constitution contains language explicitly outlining a handful of excuses a voter must use in order to obtain an absentee ballot, the bill eases the restrictions previously written into state law. It removes a requirement that commuters be out of town for all hours in which polls are open. It deletes language requiring a voter to be personally ill in order to qualify for a ballot based on sickness.

“There is a lot of frustration, not just by members of the legislature but by voters across the state, that we have such stringent restrictions on the franchise,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, a Willimantic Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s election policy committee. “Moving forward with the legislation that’s before us … where the language in the statute is only as limiting as the language in the constitution is the best way to move forward.”

Some Republicans joined every Senate Democrat in supporting the bill. However, Sen. Rob Sampson, the ranking Republican on the Government Elections and Administrations Committee, spoke at length in opposition. 

Sampson, who proposed several unsuccessful amendments to change the bill, said the language of the legislation was too vague and essentially amounted to no-excuse absentee voting. 

“My concern is that this definition is so loose that what will happen is it will allow a legitimate claim that every person in the state of Connecticut would be eligible for an absentee ballot based on the intangible definition of illness and that would open the door to a potential mass, unsolicited mailing election like we had in 2020,” Sampson said, referring to secretary of the state’s decision to mail out applications for ballots during the pandemic. 

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill released a statement following the Senate’s bipartisan vote calling the bill a reasonable and important step to giving Connecticut voters more flexibility at the polls.

“No voter should have to choose between their health and their right to vote, and no voter should be prevented from voting because of a long commute or a stopped train,” Merrill said.