Getting voting reforms on the ballot in 2022 will require compromise
Unlike other states, where Republicans seem bent on using voting suppression as a political tool, in Connecticut a path appears open to gaining bipartisan support to get state constitutional amendments presented to voters in 2022 that would make voting more convenient and improve turnouts.
As noted in prior editorials, Connecticut has among the most restrictive voting rules in the country and the most difficult to change because they are rooted in its Constitution. The state Constitution only allows in-person voting on Election Day. And absentee ballots can normally be used only if a person is sick or disabled or out of town.
For the 2020 election, the legislature voted to temporarily broaden the definition of "sickness" to also mean a fear of getting sick, through exposure to COVID-19. Connecticut voters responded, with nearly 660,000 voting by absentee, 35% of the total vote and 10 times the typical number of absentee ballots cast.
Connecticut should not go backward and again make it harder to vote.
Two amendments are under debate.
The first would ask, "Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?"
This question is certain to be on the ballot in 2022. It was approved by the House and Senate in 2019, but due to some Republican opposition, it failed to get the 75% approval necessary to immediately move it to the 2020 ballot. But having passed once, if it passes again this year with a simple majority — certain given the large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate — it will be on the ballot in 2022.
Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, the only local lawmaker on the committee, has consistently supported this amendment, which the Government Administration and Elections Committee approved on Friday, 15-4.
Under the bill, if voters approve the amendment, the details of early voting would be up to the legislature. Consensus appears to be growing around allowing voting at designated polling places for a week before Election Day. The legislature could also allow provisions for voters to pick up a ballot, fill it out at home, and return it to the clerk before Election Day.
A second provision would amend the state Constitution to permanently allow no-excuse, mail-in absentee balloting. This is proving more controversial, with France and all Republicans on the GAE Committee voting against the measure, which was approved out of committee 13-6. All Democrats were in favor.
The sticking point is that Republicans want any constitutional amendment to include a signature verification provision for mail-in ballots, assuring the ballot was filled out by the person in whose name it was submitted. This is a reasonable request, which could be done using modern scanning technology, and which would match protections in other states with extensive mail-in voting.
Democrats, such as Rep. Christine Conley of Groton, contend such details should be left to the legislature and not grounded in the Constitution, where later adjustments would require further amendment.
While we respect Conley's advocacy for easier voting, including straight-forward language outlining signature verification to a proposed constitutional amendment should not be overly burdensome. And such a compromise would be worth if it can gain adequate Republican support to obtain the 75% number to get this amendment on the ballot in 2022 as well.
Politically, Democrats may not be inclined to offer compromise. If only the early-voting amendment was on the ballot in 2022, Democrats could run against Republicans for having blocked the no-excuse absentee mail-in provision. It would almost certainly pass in the subsequent legislative session anyway and go to voters in 2024. Democrats could run on election reform for two successive elections!
But how about putting the public above political game playing? How about if the Democratic and Republican leadership agree on signature verification language both sides can live with, and for which they can pledge the support of their caucuses. Then all the voting reforms could be presented to voters in November 2022.
Perhaps Republicans wouldn't really want compromise on voting reform, even if given the opportunity. If that proved to be the case, they would find themselves out of sync with the majority of voters, which is not a good place to be.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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