The state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a resolution that could ultimately end Connecticut's long-standing, tight restrictions on when residents are allowed to vote by absentee ballot.
However, the proposal fell short of passing with enough support so voters can make that decision in 2022. Instead, if the Senate passes the same measure, 2024 is the soonest that a question could appear on the general election ballot as to whether Connecticut's constitution should be changed to allow no-excuses absentee voting.
Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called the House vote “an important first step to bringing Connecticut in line with rest of the country by making voting more convenient through universal access to absentee ballots.” But she said in a statement that it was “disappointing” and “a shame” that more Republicans didn't back the resolution.
The legislation passed the House on a 103 to 44 vote, with nine Republicans joining the Democrats in support. In order for the question to have appeared on the November 2022 ballot, the resolution needed 75% of the chamber's support.
The resolution now awaits action in the Senate. If it passes by a simple majority, both chambers must approve it again by a simple majority during the 2023 legislative session in order for the question to appear on the 2024 ballot.
Proponents contend Connecticut needs to finally join the majority of states that allow early voting and/or no-excuse absentee voting, noting that voters welcomed the opportunity to vote safely by absentee during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont temporarily allowed it through an executive order.
The resolution would place a question before the voters, asking whether the state constitution should be amended to allow people to be vote by absentee for any reason. Prior to Lamont's action, it has been restricted to excuses such as being out of town on Election Day, sickness or physical disability.
“It’s time to make this commonsense measure permanent. If the legislature doesn’t pass the no-excuse absentee ballot resolution this session, voters will quickly lose the rights they gained just months ago,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, said in a statement.
But critics of the bill, mostly Republicans, questioned the safeguards surrounding the state's current absentee ballot system, noting past absentee ballot controversies in places like Bridgeport where there were allegations of irregularities in the 2019 Democratic primary for mayor.
“We don't need to open the floodgates to ballot fraud. We don't need to open the floodgates to bad actors to take advantage of a system where there's no protections,” said state Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck.
Republicans unsuccessfully tried to amend the legislation to require that a photo ID be presented at the polls and a signature verification process, arguing they would create confidence among voters in the accuracy of the vote. Democrats, who control the General Assembly, argued that people without IDs would be disenfranchised.
Tuesday's debate on whether to expand absentee voting comes nearly a week after the House of Representatives passed another resolution, 115 to 26, that would place a question on the 2022 general election ballot asking voters if the state constitution should be amended to allow in-person, early voting before an election or referendum. The resolution awaits action in the Senate.