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Court challenge filed against constitutional amendment on early voting in Connecticut

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Craig LeMoult

As people headed to the polls Tuesday to vote on a constitutional amendment that would allow early voting in Connecticut, a Superior Court Judge in Hartford was hearing a lawsuit arguing that the constitutional amendment is unlawful.

Judge Cesar Noble held a brief hearing Tuesday afternoon on the pro se complaint filed by New Britain resident Noemi Soto before continuing the case until next week, when he has ordered the state attorney general’s office to appear for a status conference.

The post-election court date means that even if the constitutional amendment is ratified by voters on Election Day, it must still survive a court challenge. Soto is seeking to have the amendment declared “legally null and void in its entirety.”

The seven-page lawsuit filed by Soto on Monday in New Britain Superior Court seeks “declaratory relief” because she is in “danger of losing her substantial rights, power and privilege over ballot security and election integrity.”

The lawsuit names the state of Connecticut and the General Assembly as defendants. It was immediately transferred to Noble, who has been assigned to hear any Election Day complaints.

“Most people are not going to understand because they’re just going to look at the question and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I want early voting,'” Soto said Tuesday in an interview with the CT Mirror.

“They’re not seeing and they’re not going to know that ballot security measures are being essentially stolen from them constitutionally,” she added.

Soto alleges that members of the General Assembly did not abide by the rules governing how constitutional amendments must be approved, thereby invalidating the ballot measure put before voters this election.

The lawsuit alleges that in 2019 a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to allow early voting was approved by a legislative committee but never made it to a vote in the House or Senate. Then, two years later, lawmakers tried again, introducing HJ-59, which eventually passed.

But, the lawsuit claims, HJ-59 went farther than the original 2019 measure, calling for a constitutional amendment to allow early voting and to “remove the Constitutional requirement to submit election results to the Secretary of State under seal.”

The lawsuit said there are substantial differences between the two proposals, which means that no argument can be made that the second measure is “continued” from the initial attempt.

“HJ-59 was erroneously considered approved by the CGA (Connecticut General Assembly) under the instruction that they only needed “at least a majority of the total membership of each house,” the lawsuit said.

Soto said Tuesday that the differences between the two proposals is subtle, but “incredibly serious.”

“The 2021 bill is not a continuation of the former bill. It is a new bill because it is materially different,” Soto said.

Connecticut’s voting laws are enshrined in the state constitution. Any changes to it first pass through the House and Senate with three-fourths majority support, or a simple majority in both chambers in two successive legislative terms, and then majority support among voters.

This year marks the second time that the convenience voting measure has made it onto the ballot. The first attempt failed by more than 38,000 votes during the 2014 midterm.

Two assistant attorney generals have been assigned to the case — Benjamin Andrew Abrams and Alma Rose Nunley.

“The Court scheduled a hearing upon the filing of the case late yesterday. Upon further review of the complaint, the Court determined that a hearing was not required today because Plaintiff seeks only declaratory relief,” said Elizabeth Benton, spokeswoman for Attorney General William Tong. Benton meant that Soto did not seek an emergency injunction to stop a vote on the ballot question.

“The Court will determine the schedule for the case during a status conference with the parties next week,” she said.

Noble has ordered both parties to return to Hartford Superior Court on November 16.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.