Early voting plan on the Nov. 4 ballot

Voters in Connecticut will decide at the polls on Nov. 4 whether they want to amend the state constitution to remove restrictions on in-person and absentee voting and allow lawmakers to consider various early voting measures adopted in 35 other states.

It is a yes or no question that if approved by a simple majority of voters would remove restrictive language on absentee voting from the state Constitution and allow the General Assembly to change election laws to enact some form of early voting, according to a release from Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill.

"I want to make sure every voter is aware that there is a constitutional question on the ballot this fall in addition to all the candidates," said Merrill, Connecticut's chief elections official. "A 'yes' vote on this Constitutional question would not change any laws immediately, but it would permit the General Assembly to loosen our current restrictions on absentee voting and potentially enact some form of early voting, as 35 other states have done," she said. "A 'no' vote leaves our Constitution and our election laws as they currently are."

The League of Women Voters of Connecticut, as well as Merrill's office, have been working to educate voters about the ballot question.

The state's League of Women Voters is recommending a "yes" vote on the measure.

"I just think it's time for us to move into the real 21st century and make voting as painless as possible for people," said Judy Dolphin of Ledyard, co-president of the state league. "We can't have a democracy unless everybody votes."

The ballot question reads: "Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?"

To appear on the ballot, the amendment had to be passed by a majority of the state's General Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions - 2012 and 2013.

"Currently under the Connecticut Constitution Article Sixth, voting is limited to 'the day of the election' but the General Assembly is permitted to make provisions for those voters who cannot appear at their polling place '…because 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.'

"If ratified, the amendment would remove that language and it would give the General Assembly greater authority to pass a law allowing voters to cast their ballots without having to (1) appear at their polling place on Election Day or (2) provide a reason for voting by absentee ballot," according to Merrill.

Proponents argue that in today's fast-paced, busy world, there are often last-minute conflicts that prevent a person from getting to the designated polling place on Election Day. Early voting would assure that everyone who wants to vote gets the chance.

Thirty-five other states already allow for early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, a combination of the first two, or all-mail voting.

In Connecticut it is a felony if a voter obtains an absentee ballot for reasons other than travel, illness, physical disability or religious reasons.

But in other states, voters can opt to cast their ballot in advance, avoiding long lines that sometimes occur at Connecticut polling places on voting days. Proponents also cited problems and delays caused by storms in recent years that knocked out power and closed roadways on Election Day.

"We are endorsing a yes vote because we think we should give people the opportunity to talk about what options there might be," said Dolphin. "We are in the minority of states that don't have those (early voting) possibilities and giving people the opportunity to vote is very, very important and I think we should be able to talk about how to increase our voter turnout and how to get more people of all stripes to be part of the process."

If the measure passes, lawmakers will hold hearings on proposed changes and voters will have a chance to weigh in, Dolphin said.

"Once language is proposed, it will be a long process," she said, adding that the LWV will examine and consider proposed changes.

On a separate matter, Merrill, the secretary of the state, said time is running out to register to vote in the state.

Voters who wish to register online or by mail must do so by Tuesday. Individuals who want to register in person at town or city offices have until Oct. 28.

To register online visit htpps://voterregistration.ct.gov.

Merrill also encouraged U.S. citizens aged 18 and over to go online at www.sots.ct.gov/vote to find out if they are registered to vote, to register to vote, to find out where their polling place is located, or to download an application for an absentee ballot if they will be out of town or physically unable to be in their polling place on Election Day.

Polls will be open Nov. 4 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. statewide for the general election.

a.baldelli@theday.com

Twitter: @annbaldelli

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