Connecticut took a step towards easier ballot access with bipartisan passage Wednesday by the House of Representatives of a bill that would allow out-of-town commuters and caretakers of the disabled or chronically ill to vote by absentee ballot.

The measure, which now goes to the Senate for its assured final passage, stops short of providing no-excuse absentee voting, which would require a constitutional amendment. 

Instead, it largely strips from statute language that is more restrictive than the standard set in the Connecticut Constitution and disenfranchises voters in some circumstances. 

“We know that in every election there are people throughout our state — commuters, health care workers, people who take care of a sick or disabled family member — who can’t make it physically to the polls and, under our current statutory regime, also cannot get an absentee ballot,” said Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford.

The bill passed on a 126-16 vote, with every Democrat and a majority of Republicans in support.

The constitution empowers the General Assembly to allow absentee voting by anyone “unable to appear at the polling place on the day of election because of absence from the city or town of which they are inhabitants or because of sickness, or physical disability or … the tenets of their religion.”

But state law is more restrictive, defining sickness as a voter’s illness and requiring commuters to be out of town for all hours of balloting, not just long enough to leave them unable to get there by 8 p.m.

A referendum on a constitutional amendment allowing early voting will be on the ballot in November. A referendum on no-excuse absentee voting is not possible before 2024.

Two Republican amendments to the bill failed on party-line votes. 

One would have prohibited the secretary of the state or registrars of voters from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications, as was done during the 2020 elections due to COVID-19.

The other, among other things, would have required signature verification on every absentee ballot.

Rep. Dan Fox, D-Stamford, the lead sponsor of the bill, said signature verification is not widely seen as accurate, then added that his own signature varied widely after a brain illness, and he still has problems signing his name.

“How do you address that? As an individual who lost his ability to write,” Fox said, pausing as he briefly was overcome by emotion. “This would disenfranchise me from voting.”

“There are always exceptions we should make for people,” said Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, the sponsor of the amendment. “We should be very sensitive to that.”

A Senate vote is expected next week.

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.