Voters will have the chance next year to decide whether Connecticut will allow no-excuse absentee ballots in future elections.
The Senate approved, with a 26-8 vote, an amendment to the state constitution Tuesday. The bill cleared the House earlier this month, meaning the question will now go to a statewide referendum in 2024.
“It would be the next step in the process in allowing all voters in the state of Connecticut to cast a vote via absentee ballot, regardless of the reason,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee.
The resolution seeks to remove the state constitutions restrictions around who can qualify for an absentee ballot, meaning any registered voters would be able to apply for and receive one.
Lawmakers last year relaxed the definition of what it means to be sick, which is one of the six allowed reasons for an absentee ballot under the state constitution.
Other reasons include allowances for active duty military, voters who will be out of state, those who have a disability that prevents them from getting to a polling place, or those with religious objections to voting on the day of an election.
But if voters approve the constitutional amendment, Flexer said there would be “no debate as to whether or not a voter can exercise the franchise in that manner.” Instead, the legislature would need to come with a policy for administering no-fault absentee ballots.
The proposal drew objection from most of the Republicans in the chamber, but even some who supported the resolution raised concerns or warnings.
“As we move forward, I wish we had more collaboration of ideas, ideas that make our voting process better, more inclusive, more transparent, more engaged,” said Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, one of the four Republicans who voted in favor.
He said that, if voters support the change, lawmakers need to ensure conversations around the no-fault absentee ballot process are bipartisan. He warned against letting simple majorities change voting laws.
Other Republicans were more critical, saying they want to see changes before supporting the resolution.
Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, ranking Republican on the Government Administration and Elections Committee, listed several, including requiring people to apply for an absentee ballot.
During debate in the House of Representative, elections committee co-Chairman Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, said there’s nothing else preventing a vote-by-mail process, which would involve the state sending ballots to all voters without an application necessary.
But he also said at the time his expectation is that the legislature would require voters to apply for an absentee ballot.
Sampson Tuesday also pushed back against characterizations that Connecticut’s voting laws as strict, pointing out the state does not allow polling places to require photo IDs to cast a ballot.
“That may be true if you’re talking about the provisions for the type of voting, but I would argue in many respects we have some of the loosest voting laws in the country,” he said.
Democrats noted 27 states currently allow for no-excuse absentee ballots. Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said the legislature is simply letting voters decide.
“I think that is the balance that I think we should allow the public to make,” he said, adding voters can reject the idea if they’re concerned about the security and integrity of absentee ballots.
Voters did reject a similar effort in 2014, but proponents have said the outcome was because the public was confused about the ballot question. They also think voters are ready for the change.
The state allowed all voters to cast absentee ballots in 2020 because of the pandemic, and nearly 80% of voters cast a ballot in some form.
Voters then approved a constitutional amendment in 2022 to allow for early voting. The Senate voted on an implementation plan for early voting separately.
The question around absentee ballots will have to wait for 2024, though, because lawmakers could not get it on a statewide ballot two years ago.
A similar resolution won over a majority of lawmakers but failed to get the three-quarters majority needed from each chamber to go to voters. That means it needed a majority vote from each chamber in two consecutive legislative cycles.