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No-excuse absentee voting will have to wait

The state House of Representatives approved a no-excuse absentee voting resolution on Tuesday night, but could not reach the 75% threshold of votes needed to put the question on the ballot in 2022. 

The resolution passed by a vote of 104-44 with three representatives absent or not voting. State Reps. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, and Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, broke Republican ranks to vote in favor of the resolution. 

Without 75% of both the House and Senate voting in favor of the resolution, legislators will have to revisit the question in either 2023 or 2024, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said during a Tuesday morning news conference before the vote. Since both chambers passed the no-excuse absentee voting measure this session, when the question is revisited, only a simple majority vote in the House and Senate would put the idea to Connecticut voters in a 2024 referendum. 

Republican state Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, and other GOP members cited voter fraud in arguing against the no-excuse absentee voting resolution.

“We have many problems with absentee ballots, and we cannot move forward until we fix the problems we have now,” she said, adding that voter fraud is a “real problem.” 

A 2020 MIT study found documented instances of voter fraud to be minuscule since 2000. 

“One hundred forty-three cases of fraud using mailed ballots over the course of 20 years comes out to seven to eight cases per year, nationally,” researchers wrote. “It also means that across the 50 states, there has been an average of three cases per state over the 20-year span. That is just one case per state every six or seven years. We are talking about an occurrence that translates to about 0.00006 percent of total votes cast.”

Representatives debated a Republican-proposed amendment to the resolution that would require people to show photo identification before voting. Democrats objected to the amendment, saying it is unrelated to absentee voting and arguing it would make it more difficult for people to vote. 

Voter ID laws have faced pushback nationwide in recent years for disproportionately targeting people of color. Black people, Hispanics, elderly people and low-income citizens are some of the most likely groups to be without photo identification. The process of obtaining a photo ID can be an arduous one, too, experts say. 

A Republican-introduced amendment requiring signature verification on an absentee ballot application was also defeated. Currently, Connecticut verifies the identity of a voter before sending out a ballot through the statewide voter registration database. Democrats have argued that signature verification is a faulty system as people often sign their names differently in different circumstances.  

State Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, said he felt there weren’t enough “safeguards that deal with the integrity of the vote” to support the no-excuse absentee voting resolution. He said that while he supported the early voting resolution approved by the House last week, the no-excuse absentee voting measure represented too many large changes to the state Constitution. 

“As I look at the resolution that was passed last week, which was the one we provided initially in the 2019 session, I see an opportunity, I see an opportunity for individuals to come to vote ahead of Election Day,” he said. “I don’t see the need to make multiple changes that are significant.” 

State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, spoke in support of the resolution. 

“As we’ve seen through the pandemic, it was very important for those who voted to be safe,” Nolan said. "It allowed people to vote from home or not to show up at the polls because of the inconvenience of getting out of work and getting to the polls on time.”

Republican leaders such as state Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, have argued that Democrats are pushing voting rights measures such as no-excuse absentee voting and early voting as a power grab, since the majority of absentee ballots are cast by Democrats. Ritter and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, criticized that line of thinking ahead of the session Tuesday morning.

“I think the goal should be to make it easier to vote,” Ritter said. “It is disappointing that we can’t get to 75%. I think that’s what the voters want, and I think this will be an issue in the election next year, I can tell you that.” 

Republicans raised another election security concern on Tuesday: the Secretary of the State’s office mailing out absentee ballot applications to voters, which it did in the 2020 election due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state GOP echoed the concerns of Republicans in state legislatures across the country, who have introduced bills to prevent the automatic mailing of absentee ballots to every eligible voter as a part of hundreds of bills nationwide to restrict voter access. 

Last week, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the state does not anticipate mailing out absentee ballot applications in coming elections.

“We have no plans to do it again, but routinely, towns mail out applications, candidates mail out applications, anyone can mail out an application for an absentee ballot,” she said. “It’s not a ballot, it’s an application for a ballot. It’s like the types of things you get from credit card companies: You don’t have to send it back if you don’t want that credit card. So that’s kind of a red herring issue, quite frankly.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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