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Connecticut state House passes early voting resolution

The state House passed a resolution Thursday that could bring early voting to Connecticut.

By a vote of 115-26, the state House brought Connecticut slightly closer to implementing early voting. The resolution now goes to the state Senate. The measure does not stipulate how exactly early voting would be carried out or how long the period would be; lawmakers agreed to take up those questions later if voters approve the potential constitutional amendment.

State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, was the only no vote among southeastern Connecticut legislators on Thursday. State Reps. Christine Conley, D-Groton, and Anthony Nolan, D-New London, were among the co-sponsors of the resolution.

Democratic legislators, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and various advocacy groups, including the NAACP and League of Conservation Voters, rallied outside the state Capitol on Thursday morning in an effort to drum up support for early voting and a separate no-excuse absentee voting measure.

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 at that time to put the question on the ballot right away. But because it was passed at that time, only a simple majority vote in each chamber now would put the idea to Connecticut voters in a referendum in 2022. Voters rejected a constitutional amendment for early voting in 2014.

The absentee voting measure, which is new, has to pass with a 75% majority vote in the House and Senate to make it on the ballot in 2022. If it passes in both chambers but fails to reach that threshold, it could be reintroduced in the legislature and passed with a simple majority vote to be sent to voters at a later date.

Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, and Merrill took exception to hesitancy among Republicans on the potential constitutional amendments, specifically the lack of GOP backing for no-excuse absentee voting.

“The thing that I don’t understand is this, at its core, is just making voting easier. You’ll hear things about fraud, people love to use the word ‘fraud,’ or they will point to one example where something did not go right,” Ritter said. “People are going to vote no because of one random story from another state. Has there been fraud in elections? Yes! There has. It is such an unlikely crime that we should enfranchise the 99.999% of good actors in our state.”

Ritter said he’s opposed to Republican-led efforts to water down the attempt at expanding voting rights, including a push for signature verification. He said he didn’t think it is a major issue in Connecticut.

“We haven’t looked at it very closely because frankly we’ve never had the need to do that,” Merrill said about the idea. “It’s not a very thorough way of checking whether people are voting, and there’s been a lot of discussion about, maybe your signature’s changed over time. We’re willing to take a look at it if that’s what’s required. I’m not particularly in favor of it as a way of increasing whatever checks we have. We already have many, many checks and balances in our system, so this would be more trouble than it’s worth.”

While the majority of Republicans have refrained from alleging widespread fraud in Connecticut’s most recent elections, many have said that easing restrictions on absentee voting could cause election security issues.

Republican legislators have repeatedly raised an election security concern this week regarding the possibility of the secretary of the state mailing out ballot applications to eligible voters, a practice used in the 2020 election because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their concerns echo those 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.

The current proposed amendment does not mention anything about the government mailing out ballots to potential voters. And on Thursday, 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.”

Mailing absentee ballot applications to would-be voters helped the state improve the accuracy of its voter lists, Merrill said.

“For the local people, it was very helpful to know who had moved and who was no longer there, and that’s our biggest challenge as election officials — to try to find people,” she said. “People move all the time, and it’s really difficult to upkeep these lists. But we’re very, very careful before we take anyone off the list.”

House Republican leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, spoke up about the election security concerns during a news conference of his own Thursday morning.

“As we embark on changing our election laws while we are trying to balance the ability for people to have access to voting, we also need to be mindful of protecting the integrity of the vote,” he said. He accused Democrats of trying to pass these measures in order to solidify political control of the state for years to come.

He also brought up the absentee ballot application mailing issue. “We did a disservice to our state by mailing out applications to every single voter in Connecticut because it exposed that we have a number of voting rolls not purged,” he said.

The state House likely will debate the no-excuse absentee voting measure during its session on Tuesday.

s.spinella@theday.com

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