Senate Democrats vote to bring early voting to Connecticut in 2024
The Senate voted Tuesday night and early Wednesday for final passage of two election measures, one bringing early voting to Connecticut and another that will ask voters by referendum in 2024 to authorize no-excuse absentee voting.
“All of this really hits the fine point, the fact that we’re working hard to increase voter participation across the state of Connecticut,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
The state’s unusually prescriptive constitution has been a barrier to the General Assembly’s attempts to liberalize rules on voting by absentee ballots or in-person voting outside the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day.
The Senate voted 26-8 Tuesday for a resolution scheduling a constitutional amendment referendum in 2024, the next statewide election. If approved, that would give the legislature discretion over absentee balloting.
Last year, voters overwhelmingly approved another constitutional amendment that similarly gave lawmakers discretion over in-person voting, setting the stage for the vote early Wednesday on House Bill 5004.
“The bill before us enacts the will of the people. It enacts early voting in the state of Connecticut,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Windham, co-chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.
The Senate approved House Bill 5004 on a vote of 27 to 7, with all 22 Democrats who were present and 5 Republicans in support. Gov. Ned Lamont has promised to sign the bill into law.
Two Democrats who recently tested positive for COVID-19 were absent: Sen. Matt Lesser of Middletown and Sen. Norm Needleman of Essex.
The bill requires municipalities to offer 14 days of early voting in the general election in 2024, less for primaries and special elections.
The 14-day window was the most expansive of four options proposed by the secretary of the state, based on a study commissioned by her predecessor, Denise Merrill, from the Center for Election Innovation and Reform.
A shorter early voting period would be offered for elections other than the November general election: seven days for state and local primaries, and four days for special elections and presidential primaries.
As was the case in the House, Republicans in the Senate failed to win passage of an amendment to require fewer days of early voting as well as more than a dozen other measures the GOP said would ease voting and protect the integrity of elections.
All failed on party-line votes.
“We have to be able to trust those votes without question,” said Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott. “We have to be able to say, ‘I know that election was fair, I trust the result.’ But I don’t have to tell anyone listening that in America over the last 10 years or so, we have seen a very steep decline in the trust for elections.”
Donald J. Trump has made undermining confidence in elections a centerpiece of his bid to return to the White House, denying the validity of the 2020 election that President Joe Biden won by 7 million votes.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, complained that Democrats were unwilling to compromise.
“They’ve got the votes. They can do what they want. But an issue so important, so critical, so necessary, to unifying our state really needed to be bipartisan, really needed to be as close to 36 to zero as possible,” Kelly said. “We owe it to our state to try to bring our neighbors together.”
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, agreed the bill deserved widespread support, but as written and passed.
“I think this is certainly something to be celebrated tonight,” Looney said. “And it really should be an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, because we are doing what the people asked us to do.”
With a local option for additional sites, municipalities would have to offer early voting at a minimum of one location from the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on 12 days and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the Tuesday and Thursday before Election Day.
Early voting would be similar to absentee ballot voting with two key differences: Absentee ballots can be obtained only under certain circumstances, such as being away on Election Day, and the early ballots must be cast at polling places, not returned by mail.
Ballots cast early will be sealed in envelopes not opened until Election Day, similar to the process for handling, securing and tabulating absentee ballots.