More than just candidates on Nov. 4 ballot

In addition to choosing from more than a dozen candidates for state offices and the U.S. Congress, Connecticut voters on Nov. 4 will decide whether to make a change to the state constitution.

The change would alter language regarding voting restrictions, paving the way for legislators to make changes to absentee and in-person voting requirements.

The Yes or No question on the ballot will read: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?”

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the state’s chief elections official, explained that “a Yes vote on this constitutional question would not change any laws immediately, but it would permit the General Assembly to loosen our current restrictions on absentee voting and potentially enact some form of early voting, as 35 other states have done. A No vote leaves our constitution and our election laws as they currently are.”

Current law

A portion of the Connecticut Constitution outlines the state voting process, including the manner, time and place in which voting may take place. It mandates that ballots must be cast in person at a designated polling place on Election Day, unless specific circumstances allow a voter to obtain an absentee ballot. Exceptions to the in-person voting regulation include illness, disability, absence from town during all voting hours, or religious prohibitions.

Because the restrictions are in the state constitution, the General Assembly does not have the authority to pass any laws to change them. The constitutional amendment would give legislators greater authority to pass laws allowing voters to cast ballots without having to appear at the polls on Election Day and without having to provide a reason for voting absentee.

Support

The League of Women Voters of Connecticut is a strong supporter of the constitutional change. The league is a nonpartisan organization whose mission is to encourage active participation in government, to increase understanding of public policy issues, and to influence public policy through information and advocacy.

“Connecticut lags behind 36 states and the District of Columbia, which have one or more methods for any eligible voter to cast a ballot before Election Day, either by Early In Person Voting, availability of absentee ballots for any voter requesting [them], or voting by mail,” said Judy Dolphin and Gloria Bent, league co-presidents, in a press release issued in August. “If the constitutional amendment question on the ballot receives a Yes vote, then our state legislature can consider the voting alternatives most other U.S. residents already enjoy. If the question fails, then the state is left with its existing one day in person voting and limited absentee ballots.”

A pamphlet put out by the league said the organization “supports giving citizens and their elected legislators the option to discuss and debate additional methods to engage voters in our democracy.”

The League of Women Voters offers several reasons why it believes the amendment is a good idea.

  • Current law denies certain individuals the right to vote because prospective voters may face long working hours or commuting time, unpredictability of work schedules, or unanticipated personal obligations.
  • Offering voting alternatives would lower  barriers to participating in the electoral process.
  • Voting alternatives help those who are vulnerable to disenfranchisement, such as the elderly, and those reliant on public transportation.
  • Early voting allows more time to resolve voter registration issues or other confusion.
  • Voting alternatives alleviate long wait times at polls.
  • Requiring an excuse for absentee ballots does not improve security.
  • Democracy works best with active participants, and flexibility in voting is a needed reform.

Cons

Not everyone believes the constitutional amendment is such a good idea.

Some believe in-person voting on Election Day only and restrictions on absentee balloting reduce the possibility of voter fraud. Others fear eliminating the constitutional restrictions could lead to unintended consequences.

In the state legislature, it’s become mainly a partisan issue, with Democrats favoring the amendment and Republicans opposing it. The amendment passed the House and Senate in 2012 and 2013 strictly along party lines.

Danbury Sen. Michael McLachlan (R-24), the top Republican on the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee — which is in charge of choosing the wording for explanatory information on the ballot question — said recently in The Hartford Courant, “It’s been a straight party-line vote on the topic for the past two years.”

Republicans such as Rep. David Labriola (R-131) fear the amendment could “open up the floodgates” to voter fraud and absentee ballot scams.

Others, such as Sen. Scott Franz (R-36), fear the possible consequences of the change. “It is, in my opinion, a carte blanche to change voting laws going forward,” he is quoted as saying on ballotpedia.org.

Wilton’s state senator, Toni Boucher (R-26), said at a recent debate she does not support the constitutional question on the ballot. However, she also said at the same debate, “I support ‘no excuse’ absentee balloting.” But, she added, “showing up in person [at a voter’s home polling place] is fundamental to the process” and has helped combat voter fraud.

After the vote

If the ballot question on voting language passes on Nov. 4, it will not trigger any automatic changes to the state’s voting process. It will mean legislators can consider and eventually vote on various early voting methods.

If the question does not pass, no changes can be made to voting regulations.

Connecticut’s constitution has been amended 31 times since it was adopted in 1818. Amendments have included changing the voting age from 21 to 18, eliminating county sheriffs, and prohibiting sexual discrimination.