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State House calls for constitutional amendment to expand voting options

Hartford — The state House of Representatives has passed a joint resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to remove the requirement that people vote in person on Election Day.

The resolution passed by a 90-49 vote, with 12 members absent. It goes next to the Senate and then to a public vote in the 2014 election.

Currently, the state constitution exempts people from voting in person if they are out of town on Election Day, are sick, have a physical disability or hold religious tenets that prohibit voting on Election Day. The only alternative to voting in person is by absentee ballot.

The amendment would allow the General Assembly to pass laws permitting any voter to use absentee ballots and early voting. Early voting could entail practices ranging from voting a month in advance at a polling place to voting online.

The ballot measure, if passed in the Senate, would read: “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?”

“By doing this, (we) give the General Assembly the authority to pass certain laws like no-excuse absentee ballot and other initiatives that allow voters to vote without having to appear on Election Day,” said state Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, co-chairman of the legislature’s Government Administration and Election Committee.

Republicans spoke in opposition and said they would rather have a resolution that would allow anyone to use absentee ballots as opposed to a resolution that addresses absentee ballots and “early voting,” which they say is not clearly defined.

House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said it is important to provide more people with the opportunity to vote. If the Senate and the voters pass the resolution, the General Assembly can investigate which early voting methods would be best, he said.

Twenty-seven states and Washington, D.C., allow voters to vote by absentee ballot without requiring a reason; 32 states and Washington, D.C., have early voting; and two states use automatic mail voting instead of traditional polling sites, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Not everybody can take an hour or two off of their work schedule,” Aresimowicz said. “We need to look at that, we don’t ever want to shut someone out of the democratic process.”

The debate in the House went on for more than 2½ hours on Wednesday. The same resolution caused a lengthy debate in 2012. Last year, the House and the Senate passed the resolution by a simple majority, but to amend the constitution, both the House and Senate must pass the resolution by a three-fourths vote.

Because there was at least a simple majority vote in both chambers in 2012 and the same exact resolution was brought forward this session, it may be approved again by a simple majority a second time. Now that the House has passed the joint resolution, it moves to the Senate and then to the 2014 ballot.

House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, said he is concerned that the ballot language is not clear.

“I think at best the question that is written before you is confusing, especially given the history, 150-plus years of us understanding the concept of absentee ballots. The concept of “early voting” and how it will work, we are not used to because we never had it,” Cafero said.

The absentee ballot measure in the state’s constitution has been around for 80 years, said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill in a press release on Wednesday.

At the House session, Cafero proposed an amendment to make the resolution address only absentee ballot measures instead of early voting. The amendment failed.

Jutila said there wouldn’t be any additional explanatory information for the public written with the ballot question. But he said he expected there would be plenty of discussions about the ballot measure.

“I wish I had the confidence that Jutila had,” Cafero said. “I remember many ballot questions. I would be hard-pressed to recall … energetic talk at coffee shops and street corners” about them.

But Merrill said on Wednesday: “This historic vote by the House of Representatives puts Connecticut one major step closer to joining more than 30 other states that have some form of early voting. … It is long past time for those of us in the state government to allow Connecticut voters to cast their ballots in a way that works better with their busy, mobile lives.”


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