Senate endorses early voting, but not with margin to get on 2020 ballot

The Senate endorsed a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would create an early voting system, but failed to pass it by the supermajority needed to place it on the 2020 November ballot.

The chamber voted 23-13 to approve the proposal, falling four votes short of the three-fourths threshold needed to send it before voters 18 months from now.

Senate Republicans who came out against the plan said they were uneasy with the resolution’s lack of detail on how the early voting would work in Connecticut. Such a proposal would be unlikely to boost civic engagement, they reasoned, as voters already have sufficient access to the polls with same-day registration and absentee ballots.

They also worried about fraud.

“This resolution will give lawmakers the ability to use political power to meddle with current constitutional protections that we have,” said Sen George Logan, R-Ansonia. “This resolution could open up our voting system to more potential fraud and disenfranchise than the current system. If someone cannot make it to the polls on Election Day, they can still vote via absentee ballot.”

He did not elaborate on the type of fraud to which municipalities could be subjected.

“I view this ... as a blank check for the next legislature to do whatever they want with,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield. “I’m concerned about that and my constituents are concerned about that. They want to know exactly what does ‘quote-unquote’ early voting entail.”

Several hours before the vote, Kissel said that if the resolution were not approved by 75 percent of the chamber, “it simply means that it’s not going to be fast-tracked."

Kissel said he spoke to his constituents about the proposal and “they felt a rush in this area was misguided. There’s no need to rush.”

Connecticut is one of 12 states without early voting at the polls and one of only three whose state constitutions bar it. In 2018, nearly 40 million Americans in 38 states and the District of Columbia went to the polls before Election Day.

Amending the constitution is cumbersome. There are two paths to place the question on the ballot, each beginning with legislative action.

If three-quarters of both the House and Senate endorse a resolution, it is placed on the ballot in the next biennial state election. In that case, it would have gone on the November 2020 ballot.

If both chambers pass the measure, but at least one does so with less than a 75 percent endorsement, then it must be referred to the 2021 session of the legislature. If it passes in that session by a simple majority of each house, it will appear on the 2022 general election ballot.

If a majority of those voting on the amendment in the general election approve it, the amendment will become part of the state constitution.

The House last month approved early voting 125-24, easily exceeding the 75 percent supermajority threshold.

Early voting has been controversial in Connecticut. In 2014, residents rejected what Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called a poorly worded amendment — it talked about removing restrictions on absentee ballots and not early voting — by a vote of 491,447 to 453,070. The new question asks, “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?”

Gov. Ned Lamont has said he supports the proposal.

“In a 21st century economy, it is simply not realistic nor practical to expect every citizen to be able to physically go to one designated location during a specific set of hours on a Tuesday,” Lamont said. “As a democracy that prides itself on openness, transparency, and accessibility, it is our responsibility to make it easier for citizens to cast their ballots and have a say in their government. Early voting procedures have been successful in a growing number of states across the country — Connecticut has fallen behind and it’s time we catch up.”

Kathleen Megan and Jenna Carlesso are reporters for The Connecticut Mirror (www.ctmirror.org). Copyright 2019 © The Connecticut Mirror.

kmegan@ctmirror.org

jcarlesso@ctmirror.org

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