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    Monday, January 30, 2023

    On the ballot: early voting

    On Nov. 8, Connecticut voters can decide whether the state Constitution should be amended to allow the legislature to pass a law allowing for specifically in-person early voting.

    Past polls have indicated widespread support among state voters for such a move, but the question of how exactly early voting would be carried out has yet to be determined. In 2024, voters will have an opportunity to vote on universal, no-excuse absentee balloting.

    Last year, the state House passed a resolution that put early voting on the ballot for the 2022 election. The measure does not stipulate how exactly early voting will be carried out or how long the period will be; lawmakers agreed to take up those questions later if voters approve the potential constitutional amendment.

    The state House and Senate passed a resolution in 2019 that would have allowed for early voting, but the Senate vote didn’t reach the 75% support needed to put the question on the ballot. But because it was passed at that time, only a simple majority vote in each chamber was needed to put the idea to Connecticut voters in a referendum in 2022. Voters rejected a constitutional amendment for early voting in 2014.

    Democrats support early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, while most Republicans support early voting and are split or against no-excuse absentee voting. No matter the party, southeastern Connecticut legislators favor early voting, except for Republican Doug Dubitsky. He was the lone no-vote out of the region’s politicians on the measure in 2021. In a recent interview with The Day, he explained his position.

    Dubitsky said he supports accommodations for people who cannot make it to the polls on Election Day, but he favors having “an election day, not an election month.” He said extending no-excuse early voting would be problematic. He said news about issues or candidates could arise shortly before the election that could change voters’ minds. A candidate could drop out or even die during early voting, he said.

    “We really should try to have an election day,” Dubitsky said. “We should make accommodations for people who can’t, for one reason or another, if they’re out of town, or if they’re sick or if they’re tending to somebody who is disabled, things like that. I see no reason to stretch an election out for over a month and have not heard a good explanation.”

    On Saturday, he explained his position further, saying, “The proposal unfortunately has no details whatsoever. All it says is, ‘Should the legislature be able to make up any rules it wants?’ What does that mean? Do the rules change every election? It’s hard to vote on a proposal that has no details. Do we know, is early voting going to start three months before Election Day?”

    State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, said he is a strong supporter of early voting. He was a co-sponsor of the measure passed last year. Nolan said he likes “anything that’s going to alleviate any issues for people to have the opportunity to vote.”

    “Unfortunately our society is not always accepting of the fact that some people can’t get off of work, or some people have a hard time getting to the polls,” Nolan said. “It’s a matter of making it as convenient as possible for people to be able to vote. For those who can stand in line, that’s great, we appreciate it…But there are many people in our community who can’t stand in line to vote for various reasons.”

    Nolan said he tentatively approves of giving people about 30 days in advance of Election Day to cast their ballots.

    “That’s enough time, I think, for people to be informed of the issues they’re going to be voting about,” he said.

    State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, said she has been “a consistent vote in favor of allowing Connecticut voters to decide whether or not to make early voting an option for elections.”

    “My preference would be for extended hours for in-person, supervised voting at recognized polling locations,” Cheeseman wrote in an email. “Having said that, this cannot become yet another unfunded state mandate on our towns and municipalities and the legislature must provide funds to cover the additional costs towns will see as a result of this decision.”

    The Secretary of the State’s office fully supports early voting. In a recent news release, it highlighted studies that show Connecticut to be “one of the most restrictive states in the nation” in terms of ease of voting.

    “Sadly, these studies represent some hard truths about our state, in that we have some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country - no period of early voting, strict excuses to vote by absentee ballot, and aging election infrastructure,” Secretary of the State Mark Kohler, a Democrat, said in the news release. “The good thing is, we can do something about it ... Voters will have an opportunity to voice their opinion on the whether the state should allow for early voting.

    Connecticut is one of only four states — including Mississippi, Alabama and New Hampshire — that does not offer the option of early voting.

    More people vote

    Beth Ginsberg, an assistant professor in residence at UConn Stamford whose research studies the intersection of voter turnout and race, said early voting unequivocally increases turnout.

    “I’m in favor of anything that gets more voters to the polls … for a democratic republic, we have very low turnout levels,” Ginsberg said.

    She said she feels that arguments against early voting stem from “a fear of lack of control and possible fraud.”

    “There’s so little fraud in voting, it’s a paper tiger argument…It’s an argument without any substance,” Ginsberg said.

    She said early voting is simple — it’s the same process as voting on Election Day, only, it takes place before Election Day, and without the same wait time.

    Ginsberg said support in the state for early voting among Republicans “makes Connecticut very unique.”

    “Republicans in Connecticut are different from Republicans in Texas or California,” Ginsberg said. “Republicans in Connecticut have the history of the old liberal Republicanism, the Nelson Rockefeller type of New England Republicans, which are not as right wing conservative as Republicans in other states.”

    Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut, a nonprofit that works for "open, honest and accountable government," said early voting is long overdue in Connecticut.

    “When we talk with people about this it always sounds to them like a real no-brainier: ‘Of course we should do this,’ and ‘why in the world don’t we have it,’” she said. “We are anticipating that being the case this time at the polling place. People are ready to say that they think we should have early voting.”

    Quickmire reflected on the failed early voting ballot measure in 2014.

    “The language of the amendment was very difficult to understand. People didn’t really know what it meant and it became a challenge,” she said. “When people are confused by anything on the ballot, they just ignore it or pass it over, so they did. We have data that shows there were people who voted for (former Democratic Governor Dan) Malloy, but then they just didn’t vote for the question on the ballot.”

    Quickmire said the early voting period should be at least one week long, and it should include at least one weekend and possibly two.

    “Having more time is also OK as far as I’m concerned, but I know some people are concerned that, ‘Oh, well, maybe I’ll change my mind,’” she said. “Generally people have their minds made up about the candidates and don’t change it at the last minute. It doesn’t happen unless there’s some huge, horrible scandal, which is unlikely.”

    s.spinella@theday.com

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