Secretary of the State Denise reminded voters that absentee ballots were available again due to COVID-19. With her, from left: Tom Swan, Gov. Ned Lamont, Rabbi Doniel Ginsberg and Mayor Luke Bronin. MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill reminded voters that absentee ballots were available again due to COVID-19. With her, from left: Tom Swan, Gov. Ned Lamont, Rabbi Doniel Ginsberg and Mayor Luke Bronin.

Every Connecticut voter will be able to vote by absentee ballot next month, a common-enough occurrence nationally but a rarity here due to some of the nation’s most restrictive laws on absentee voting.

A temporary law passed by Democrats in May will give every voter access to absentee ballots due to COVID-19 for the second consecutive year —and most likely for the last time unless the Connecticut Constitution is amended.

“I’m happy to say that due to the work of the legislature and the governor, we are able again in 2021 to use an absentee ballot — that is to say that any voter can use an absentee ballot in 2021,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said Tuesday.

The law allows anyone concerned about contracting COVID-19 to vote by absentee, the same option available in 2020.

Gov. Ned Lamont joined Merrill and others at a press conference to promote the coming municipal elections, which generate lower turnout than presidential and statewide contests in even-numbered years.

A subtext was the long campaign to allow no-excuse absentee voting, favored by Democratic lawmakers and opposed by most Republicans. 

The legislature approved a referendum on a constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting, but Republican opposition kept the vote shy of the supermajority necessary to put it on the 2022 ballot.

The Connecticut Constitution empowers the General Assembly to set by law means to vote in cases of “absence from the city or town of which they are inhabitants or because of sickness, or physical disability or because the tenets of their religion forbid secular activity.” 

Until the temporary measures passed in response to COVID, state law defined “sickness” as a voter’s sickness, not a general concern about the risk of contracting a virus during a pandemic or the need to stay at home and care for a sick family member.

“It’s really extraordinary when you think about the fact that in 2020, about 650,000 people in Connecticut voted by absentee ballot,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “When they cast their vote, they cast their vote for whichever candidates they preferred. But I think they also cast their vote for no excuse absentee balloting. They cast their vote for a more convenient way to express your voice in elections.”

President Donald J. Trump made absentee voting synonymous with fraud for many of his supporters, who have accepted his baseless assertion that President Joe Biden’s victory last year was due to fraud.

Trump supporters heckled Biden last Friday at a visit to a day care center near the state Capitol, chanting vulgarities while the president mingled with children at a playground.

“Right across the fence were angry protesters, yelling, cursing, dropping the F bomb. And it was embarrassing,” Lamont said, decrying “a coarsening of the political culture in this country.”

As of Tuesday, there were 2,256,052 voters registered in Connecticut, down from 2,309,576 from a year ago. The voter rolls typically shrink in odd-numbered years, when only municipal offices are on the ballot.

Democrats outnumber Republicans, 825,038 to 463,393, but the largest voting bloc is 928,981 unaffiliated voters.

The latest numbers reflect a 20-year trend favoring Democrats in Connecticut. Since 2001, Democratic registration has increased by nearly 200,000, compared to little more than 20,000 for Republicans.

Merrill said the interest in the 2020 presidential election was extraordinary.

“There were more registered voters in Connecticut than any time in the history of the state. And there was a higher turnout,” Merrill said.

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.