George Logan prepares his "I voted" sticker
Republican 5th Congressional District candidate George Logan peels off his “I voted” sticker at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Meriden, Connecticut, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Credit: Johnathon Henninger / CTNewsJunkie / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Included in the 832-page budget is an effort to codify the federal Voting Rights Act into state law. 

The language was included because the House of Representatives was unlikely to vote on a separate bill to do the same before the legislative session comes to an end Wednesday at midnight. 

“There was a hangup when it came down from the Senate, because at the time that it came down the money wasn’t in the budget for it,” House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, said ahead of Monday’s vote on the $5-Billion biennium budget. 

Lawmakers drafted a state’s voting rights act, named after Civil Rights icon and former congressman John R. Lewis, as a protection in case federal laws changed. 

“We’ve seen at the federal level how one of the Civil Rights movement, the Voting Rights Act, has been systematically dismantled by a conservative majority on the Supreme Court,” said Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the legislature’s Government Administrations and Elections Committee. 

If it passes, the legislation would bar municipalities from passing voting prerequisites, election processes or other rules that limit the ability to vote for race, color or language minority groups and other protected classes identified in the federal Voting Rights Act. 

Voters who think a violation has occurred can either file a lawsuit against their town or request the Secretary of the State intervene and help find a solution. The secretary can also file a lawsuit.

The proposal even spells out a process where certain municipalities could have to get approval from the Secretary of the State for major election changes. It also gives courts leeway to change local election rules or processes. 

Opponents have said the bill goes too far, though. 

“I think the bill gives the Secretary of the State and the courts extraordinary power to make policy and municipalities really, just — ignoring what each individual town does,” Rep. Gail Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, a ranking member on the Government Administrations and Elections Committee, said. 

Opponents also have questioned how courts or the Secretary of the State would determine which candidate a particular group would favor. 

The bill drew “no” votes from nine Republicans in the Senate, and Mastrofrancesco said she wanted a debate in the House. 

“People and my colleagues don’t have any idea” what the bill does, she said. “They were all coming up and asking ‘what is this part? What does it doing?’” 

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said he didn’t have concerns about including the language into the budget, though, noting the remaining three Senate Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the bill.  

“The fact that it was bipartisan — it was really about the length of time we have left,” Rojas said, adding he didn’t think including the bill would cost any votes on the overall budget. 

The bill never reached the House floor because it does require funding. The Secretary of The State will be required to maintain a database of election and demographic data through the University of Connecticut. 

The nonpartisan Office of Fiscal analysis estimates this will cost roughly $1.6 million in fiscal year 2024, and another $1.4 million the year after. That is now included, with the act, in the budget. 

The proposal aims to crack down on “divergent voting patterns,” or situations in a district when the preferred candidate of minority groups protected under federal law are different from the candidate supported by the rest of the voters. 

In cases where voters file a lawsuit, courts can impose a range of remedies that include ordering an alternative election method, requiring new or revised districts, increasing the size of a municipal legislative body, or adding or restoring people to voter rolls.

If municipalities are cited for three more violations of this bill, state or federal election or civil rights laws or the 14th or 15th amendment, they would be designated as a covered jurisdiction. The same designation would apply to municipalities that are found in violation of rules around districting, redistricting or election methods. 

Covered jurisdictions have to get approval from the Secretary of the State before making districing changes, implementing a new voting method, removing people from voter rolls or implementing other specified overhauls.

In situations where voters work out an agreement with their municipality, they would need approval from SOTS before the changes can go into place.

The SOTS would have 90 days to decide, and could do so “independent of the state’s election laws or any special act, charter, or home rule ordinance.” 

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said she thinks the law gives cities and towns enough protection. It also has a high threshold so that one person can’t force a change because they don’t like municipal election results.

“There are enough protections, I think, and safeguards put in to allow the individual to express their concerns but also not open the towns up to too much risk,” she said. 

Blumenthal, meanwhile, said the legislature could also change the process if municipalities feel they’ve lost control of local election laws.