House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Shannon Wegele and Jesse Hubbard of the secretary of the state’s staff photograph the vote tally. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Shannon Wegele and Jesse Hubbard of the secretary of the state’s staff photograph the vote tally. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org

A supermajority in the House of Representatives voted Wednesday night for a resolution authorizing a referendum on amending the Connecticut Constitution to permit early voting, a convenience now permitted in most other states.

If the Senate concurs by a similar margin, voters will be asked in 2020 if they want to remove a constitutional prohibition on early voting. A Senate vote of less than 75 percent in favor would delay a referendum by at least two years.

Connecticut is one of 12 states without early voting at the polls and only one of three whose state constitutions currently bar it. In 2018, nearly 40 million Americans in 38 states and the District of Columbia went to the polls before election day.

“Tonight’s vote is a strong, bipartisan statement in favor of making voting easier for voters,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. “Ultimately, this is not a question of partisanship, it’s one of improving the voter experience. Connecticut has fallen behind other states in removing the barriers that can make it harder for our voters to cast their ballots.”

The lopsided and bipartisan House vote of 125-24 easily exceeded the 75-percent supermajority threshold of 114 votes, but it came after a day of behind-the-scenes negotiations about final language — and an unexpected effort by Republicans to amend the resolution to force a new election in Stratford to resolve a contested House race.

A Committee on Contested Elections deadlocked along partisan lines in February over whether to recommend the House of Representatives order a new election in the 120th House District of Stratford, where an estimated 75 voters were given the wrong ballots in a race Rep. Philip Young, a Democrat, won by just 13 votes.

On a party-line vote of 90-59, Democrats upheld a ruling of the chair that a new election in Stratford was not germane to the question of a constitutional amendment. But the partisan defeat did not upend bipartisan support for early voting. Thirty-five of the 59 Republicans in attendance voted to place the early-voting question on the ballot. All 90 Democrats supported the measure.

The House roll call.

In 2014, voters in Connecticut rejected what Merrill called a poorly worded amendment — it talked about removing restrictions on absentee ballots and not early voting — by a vote of 491,447 to 453,070. The new question asks, “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?”

The overwhelming passage came after an agreement was struck to change the proposed amendment, drawing solid GOP support. Originally, it would have mandated at least three days of early-voting.  The final version removes the constitutional prohibition on early voting, but leaves the ultimate authority for allowing early voting up to the General Assembly.

The amendment also would remove from the constitution the limited circumstances under which absentee ballots can be used.

Amending the constitution is cumbersome.There are two paths to place the question on the ballot, each requiring the General Assembly to adopt a resolution. If the House and Senate approve the resolution by a supermajority of 75 percent, then the question would go on the next statewide ballot in 2020. If not, an identical resolution must win simple majorities in successive legislative terms, delaying a referendum until 2022.

Senate approval by 27 of the 36 senators would place the question on the ballot in 2020.

Gov. Ned Lamont praised Merrill for pursuing passage over several years and the House for striking a bipartisan compromise.

“In a 21st century economy, it is simply not realistic nor practical to expect every citizen to be able to physically go to one designated location during a specific set of hours on a Tuesday,” Lamont said. “As a democracy that prides itself on openness, transparency, and accessibility, it is our responsibility to make it easier for citizens to cast their ballots and have a say in their government. Early voting procedures have been successful in a growing number of states across the country – Connecticut has fallen behind and it’s time we catch up.”

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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2 Comments

  1. Early voting is the dumbest thing going and makes voter fraud even easier than it is now.

    Just consider the 2018 election. In places that allow election day registration, you routinely hear of long, last-minute lines to register and then vote. Knowing the tendencies of people, this will still be the case. In college towns, we heard of registrars waving a magic wand and accepting all of these very last minute people.

    Some of these people were interviewed and you heard explanations of ‘too lazy to obtain an absentee ballot, forgot to get one and didn’t want to drive home (another State) to vote, they figured a CT vote would have more effect because ‘home’ results were a foregone conclusion. I expect there were many across the country–not just college students– who actually did vote in both places. If you can’t remember to register, or change your registration by an earlier set date, then oh well. Beyond that, I’ve always felt that in order to register in a new place, you must show proof of removing the previous State (for National elections) registration so that voter rolls can be corrected. I’m sure there’s no cross-checking done. Heck, officials are barely able to conduct the process as it exists.

    As far as ‘no-excuse’ absentee voting is concerned, I have never heard that being enforced. Personally, I have always thought that there should be Election Weekend–two days of voting. Period.

    I’ve been in States with unbelievably early voting. So much could happen between then and E-Day with the candidates or even the voter (like moving). Especially for transients, It also presents an opportunity to be in one place to vote early and another

    My last comment is something that doesn’t apply everywhere. In some States, absentee ballots are only counted if the number of them surpasses the vote margin. That frequently excludes military and many others. That certainly affects POTUS races far more but even in local or State races, it COULD trigger a recount if they were counted.

    I know it won’t happen but keep things the way they are (preferably better). Naturally, CT Republicans are terrified of being accused of ‘disenfranchisement.’ If you can’t be responsible enough to register on time and vote on time, then you probably aren’t capable of making a responsible decision, not that ‘responsibility’ is a requirement. Of course, these days we constantly hear that you should for someone based solely on their gender, skin color, insider/outsider, etc. It also has become largely ‘not the other person.’

    Maybe I’m being unrealistic but I was brought up (and raised our own kids) to be responsible, including while voting. Find out all that you can about all of the candidates, weigh the factors, register on time and vote when you’re supposed to vote. If you can’t do those simple things, I’d actually prefer you didn’t vote, at least for those offices.

  2. It’s called “Election Day”. Not Election Season. If anything, our modern ability to learn where and when voting will take place is easier than ever. Learning about the issues is as easy as pie. I am sick of hearing all the wimpy excuses put forth by legislators as to why we have to accommodate the lazy. It is inviting fraud.
    Voters were able to get to the polls on the appointed day when they had to travel by horse and wagon for miles. Today’s impediments pale by comparison.

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