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Unfortunately, early voting will now arrive later

May 27, 2019

A burst of bipartisan support in the state House last month made us optimistic that a constitutional amendment allowing early voting in Connecticut was on its way to becoming reality.

That optimism was unwarranted. The House bipartisanship did not travel across to the Senate. The Senate vote failed to win enough support last week to put the early voting amendment to a public referendum in November 2020.

The Senate passed the measure 23-13; four votes shy of the 75-percent super majority needed to place the issue on the ballot next year.

The House had approved the measure by a lopsided 125-24 vote April 24. All 90 Democrats in the House voted in favor, as did 35 of the 59 Republicans. The House vote exceeded the 75-percent threshold by 11 votes.

Every member of the southeastern Connecticut House delegation — except for Doug Dubitsky, (R-Chaplin) — voted for the measure. Local House Democratic members Christine Conley (Groton), Emmett Riley (Norwich) and Kate Rotella (Stonington) were co-sponsors of the bill.

Local Republican House members Holly Cheeseman (East Lyme), Kathleen McCarty (Waterford), Devin Carney (Old Saybrook) and Mike France (Ledyard) joined their Democratic colleagues in support of the amendment.

Whatever reasons compelled the House Republicans to approve early voting were not convincing to Republicans in the Senate. Only one Republican senator voted in favor.

Among the local Senate delegation, Democrats Norm Needleman of Essex and Cathy Osten of Sprague voted with the majority. Local Republican senators Paul Formica of East Lyme and Heather Somers of Groton voted against.

“The Senate vote was quite unfortunate,” said Needleman, who also co-sponsored the bill. “I thought we had four or five Republican votes in favor of early voting, enough to reach the 75-percent threshold.”

Formica and Somers wrote a joint statement to The Day explaining why they voted against the amendment.

“Before moving forward with an early voting bill to have citizens vote on and change our Constitution, citizens deserve to have a detailed plan and information on exactly how early voting would work,” they wrote.

“In fact, the bill would allow for whatever party is in power at the time — Republican or Democrat — to make all the rules and decisions. Giving the state of Connecticut’s political majority free rein to create a new system of voting outside of Election Day when Connecticut has difficulty running a smooth Election Day operation clearly raises concerns.”

Formica and Somers said Senate Republicans believe Connecticut voters already have ample access to the polls with same-day registration and absentee ballots.

Connecticut is one of only 15 states where voters can register to vote on Election Day. However, absentee voting in the state is subject to tight restrictions.

“In order to vote by absentee, a citizen must affirm that they will be out of town or unable to make it to the polls on Election Day,” Needleman said. “It puts people in the uncomfortable position of potentially lying in order to cast an absentee ballot.”

Connecticut lags 39 other states and the District of Columbia on early voting. Casting an early ballot is a popular and convenient alternative in those states. In the 2018 election cycle, 40 million Americans voted prior to the Nov. 6 election date.

The shortfall in the Senate vote last week means the early-voting measure will be reintroduced in the 2021 legislative session. The second time around, a simple majority from both the House and Senate will send the amendment to the voters in the 2022 general election.

An early-voting referendum failed once before in 2014, when voters narrowly rejected the measure by 52-48 percent.

“I think we should do everything we can to make voting more accessible and convenient,” Needleman said. “I believe the more access and convenience people have for voting is good for democracy.”

We agree. Voter turnout in Connecticut is trending up. Formica and Somers cited data from the 2018 election which showed state voters casting more ballots than in any election since 1982; up nearly 10 percent, with significant increases among minority voters.

That’s good, but we can do better. Engaging more voters in the arena of political ideas and policies strengthens the public’s oversight of government. More civic involvement leads to more transparency and accountability.

We urge the General Assembly to revisit the early voting amendment in 2021 and secure it as a ballot question in the 2022 general election.

 

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