The land of “steady habits” Is one of only four states without early voting but fear of COVID Gives Residents Another Way To Vote Without Going To The Polls
By John McNamara
A pandemic-inspired change in CT’s Absentee Voting Law will be the closest residents will come to early voting in the November 8th mid-term election as voters decide whether to change the state Constitution to allow a real form of early voting in future elections.
In October, 33 states will open polling locations to vote early at various starting dates. Six states, including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, opened for voting in the last week of September.
The General Assembly, still concerned over the lingering effects of the pandemic, made a fix to the statute this year enabling any voter to avoid voting in person: “This includes voters who are unable to go to their polling place because of a sickness or physical disability of another person, or because of the continued presence of a sickness, such as the COVID-19 virus.” That provision has been added to the customary reasons for an Absentee Ballot (AB) that include military service, absence from the town, sickness, physical disability, conflict with a religious holiday on election day and being a poll worker other than at your own voting place. The change can hardly be called a reform toward more voter access but it’s a legal loophole to allow no-excuse AB voting within the strictures of the state Constitution.
The November ballot will ask voters to amend Connecticut’s constitution to make voting possible for a period ahead of Election Day. Currently the state constitution’s 18th century prohibition on voting unless you show up at the polls leaves the Nutmeg state in the company of MIssissippi and three others without the early vote option.
A 2014 referendum to drop the early voting restriction lost. That setback for election reformers eight years ago may be attributed, in part, to a wordy, multi-faceted question that 52% of the electorate turned down: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restriction concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?”
This year the ballot question makes the issue clearer: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting? Proponents can hope that the clarity wins this time because they don’t seem worried about the outcome. The endorsements for Question 1 have been plentiful from Democratic pols and good government groups but there is very little in the way of a coordinated campaign either for or against the measure.
Connecticut is neither the hardest nor the easiest to vote, according to the 2022 Cost of Voting Index as reported in the New York Times on September 20th: In addition to many red states imposing new restrictions on voting, “politically divided states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin and deep-blue ones like Connecticut, have had limits on access to the ballot for years.” Connecticut remains nearer the bottom than the top in ease of voting despite reform efforts by successive Secretaries of the State going back to Miles Rapoport in the 1990s and including Susan Bysiewicz and Denise Merrill. Rapoport, a West Hartford resident who went on to lead Common Cause and DEMOS, is now a voice for universal, compulsory voting akin to jury duty and other gateway reforms at all levels of government as described in “100% Democracy” , his book co-authored with Journalist E.J. Dionne, Jr.
A “Yes” on Question 1 will empower the legislature to adopt early voting and vote by mail options that are already on the books almost everywhere else in the nation.
Absentee applications are available at the Secretary of the State’s Election Page or in New Britain by calling the Town and City Clerk at 860-826-3349. Completed applications should be mailed to Mark H. Bernacki, Town & City Clerk, City of New Britain – Attn: Elections, 27 West Main Street – Room #109
New Britain, CT 06051.