For the second time in a decade, Connecticut voters will consider easing the state constitution to permit a form of early voting through a ballot question which proponents hope will succeed despite the failure of a similar proposal in 2014.
In addition to choosing candidates for offices like the governor, U.S. senator, and other elected positions, voters will see a question on their ballots in November: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?”
If a majority of voters answer “Yes” to the question, the state legislature would gain the option of passing laws to allow early voting. The change would bring the state in line with most of the country. Currently, Connecticut is one of only four states that does not allow some form of early in-person voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
But while early voting is already an option throughout most of the U.S., Connecticut voters narrowly rejected a similar amendment back in 2014. Asked whether the state constitution should be amended to ease use of absentee ballots and allow a person to vote without appearing on Election Day, about voters 491,000 answered “No,” compared to 453,000 who voted “Yes.”
However, proponents of early voting believe this year’s ballot question will pass, in part because Connecticut voters have become more familiar with alternate voting options.
“In short, the pandemic changed everything,” Denise Merrill, former secretary of the state, said Friday.
A 2020 executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont allowed registered voters to cast absentee ballots rather than risk contracting COVID-19 at the polls and more than 35% of the ballots cast in that election were submitted that way. This year, the legislature expanded the conditions under which residents could qualify for an absentee ballot, making mail-in voting easier for commuters and residents worried about illnesses.
Merrill said voters have enjoyed the extra freedom and will likely be open to expanding their options. Like many proponents of the easing voting laws, Merrill also chalked up much of the 2014 question’s failure to the way it was worded on the ballot. Some voters were confused by the question, she said.
“I had people tell me, ‘Oh, I voted against that terrible question that would’ve limited my right to vote,’” Merrill said. “I think that was a problem. This time we left nothing to chance. We wrote the question right into the legislation.”
However while some voters may have been tripped up by the language of the 2014 ballot question, others do not want to see early voting enacted in Connecticut.
Dominic Rapini, of Branford, is one such voter. Rapini, a Republican running this year for secretary of the state against Democrat Stephanie Thomas, listed a host of potential problems in an interview Friday.
Early voting could minimize the impact of late-breaking news about candidates, potentially cost towns millions in expanded staffing expenses, and impair the get-out-the-vote efforts of smaller campaigns not equipped to sustain those operations for prolonged periods, he said.
The constitutional amendment also does not specify how long a period voters would be given to cast their ballots. If the question were to pass, that decision would be up to the state legislature as it is in many other states.
However, Rapini said the question amounted to a “blank check” for the legislature. As a candidate for the state’s top election administrator, Rapini said it was his job to “tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”
“I know early voting is very popular, it sounds very great and convenient but it’s just not right for Connecticut,” Rapini said.
Merrill, who has spent years arguing to the contrary, has formed a referendum committee called Yes for Freedom to Vote Early, aimed at raising awareness of the issue and convincing voters to support the ballot question.
As of a July reporting deadline, the group had just over $25,000 but Merrill said it has since received more and plans to invest in internet and news media advertisements.
“The real question for us is whether we’ll have enough money to put ads on television,” she said. “The air waves will be flooded with ads about the governor’s race, the four constitutional officers are all going to be raising money and putting ads on television. It will be kind of hard to break through the noise at the last minute. We hope we can do a few, at least to reach people enough to give them the information they need.”