Legislators Get “Rennied” Twice For Filing Bill On “Compulsory” Universal Voting
Courant Columnist Kevin Rennie has skewered the co-sponsors of a bill that would “institute mandatory voting” to “incentivise civic engagement.”not once but twice this month.
Raising Rennie’s ire is legislation that would require voters to cast a ballot or provide a valid reason for not voting subject to a fine if a citizen does not comply. The General Administration and Elections Committee (GAE) voted 13 to 6 to hold a subject matter public hearing but has not voted to draft legislation for formal consideration.
Rennie’s acerbic takedowns of the five lawmakers supporting “vote police” are an understandable reaction to a law that would impose a penalty of any sort on registered voters for not voting. His sentiments will find lots of company among many citizens be they left, right or center as an infringement on constitutional rights. “The basic elements of American democracy elude them,” wrote Rennie of the legislators. “Voters have as much right to decline to participate in an election as they do to cast a ballot. It is one of freedom’s glories.” Rennie believes that the intent of the bill to increase participation will have the opposite effect, further decreasing turnouts that in Connecticut municipal elections in 2021 dropped to a dismal 32%. In New Britain municipal voting reached a nadir of 28% despite record high spending in the mayoral race.
An impetus for the bill that proponents refer to as “universal voting” is a book by former Secretary of the State and Common Cause leader Miles Rapoport and Washington Post Columnist E.J. Dionne: “100% Democracy: The Case For Universal Voting” published in 2022. The book and the universal voting organization is pushing the idea of ‘mandatory” voting based mainly on Australia’s 100+ year practice of compulsory voting that produces very high turnouts. Voters Down Under are liable for a fine ($20) akin to a parking ticket if they ignore filing a form excusing themselves.. It should be noted that elections there are celebratory community holidays held on Saturdays. In their book the Liberal-leaning Rapoport and Dionne say the move to Australia’s universal voting early in the 20th century stemmed from the conservative party worried that organized Labor would outpoll their party members without making it compulsory. The authors point out the practice is in place in other democracies around the world. Saying voting should be equivalent to jury duty they counter what would appear to be the strong First Amendment argument against it saying that voters need not vote for anyone but, like jury duty, citizens just have to show up and are free to leave the ballot blank. In the judicial system the failure to answer a summons for jury duty comes with a fine that has always been the rule under the principal of being judged by “a jury of your peers.”
Feeling the wrath of Rennie but signing on to give universal voting a legislative hearing anyway are Hamden State Reps Josh Elliot (D-88) and Mike D’Agostino (D-91), Middletown State Rep. Brandon Chafee (D-33), Waterbury State Rep. Geraldo Reyes, Jr., Easton State Rep Anne Hughes (D-135) and East Windsor State Senator Saud Anwar (D-3). Similar legislation has been filed in Washington state and U.S. Rep. John Larson (CT-1) has added a friendly voice for universal voting in his advocacy of the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act that have been stalled in the Congress.
It’s unlikely that “compulsory” or “universal” voting will advance beyond a legislative hearing in 2023. It raises too many questions about enforcement and costs, not to mention deeply held views that citizens have both a right and a right not to vote. The GAE also has more pressing election bills to consider: early voting, no-excuse absentee voting and rank-choice voting all of which are on the docket for hearings and reports to the full General Assembly.
But by introducing the controversial idea of making voting compulsory just like jury duty, State Rep. Elliot and allies may be easing the way for what Rapoport and Dionne call “gateway reforms” that are short of required voting — early voting, vote by mail, Election Day holidays, adequate funding of election administration and safeguards against “overly aggressive” purging that has been a means of exclusion and suppression by local election officials. These are reachable steps to boost access, turnouts and restore civic engagement at a time of disengagement and restrictive voting laws coming out of the Trump-influenced Republican Party.
CT Is Finally Set To Join 46 Other States With Early Voting: Public Hearing Wednesday 2/22
One of the big items for the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee in 2023 is implementing the state constitutional amendment that finally will allow early voting in the state.
On Wednesday, February 22nd the GAE will hear three bills that would provide 10 days, 14 days or 18 days to vote early ahead of this year’s November 7th local elections.
Last November “Blue” Connecticut finally got rid of an 18th century constitutional clause that made showing up at the polls mandatory with few exceptions. Now comes the decision by the legislature on how many days before E-Day will be established to vote early aside from the absentee vote option.
Based on 60 percent voter support in last November’s referendum and the backing of a Democratic majority early voting is now a lock for Connecticut to catch up with 46 other states in opening up polling places at designated locations in each community.
GAE Members will hear lots of testimony at Wednesday’s hearing to expedite passage of a bill that will extend early voting a minimum of 10 days and up to 18 days. In testimony already submitted Win Heimer, representing the CT Alliance for Retired Americans says: “Connecticut has some of the most restrictive voter laws in the nation and unlike many of its neighbors in New England, has been slow to adopt changes designed to make voting easier, particularly for working people, the
elderly and communities of color.”
While state election law needs to be amended early voting in New Britain will likely be set up in the same way Election Day Registration (EDR) is handled when eligible residents register and vote at New Britain City Hall.
Proponents, including the League of Women Voters of Connecticut and Connecticut Common Cause, are also advocating for other voter access implementers in 2023, including another constitutional amendment to go to ballots that will allow “No Excuse” absentee voting . The state currently allows absentee voting for limited reasons, an option that was extended in 2020 to all voters because of the pandemic risk. If approved a 2024 referendum will ask “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to allow each voter to vote by absentee ballot?”
How Neighboring States Vote Early
|State||Early Voting Begins||Early Voting Ends||Locations|
|Maine||In-person absentee voting available as soon as absentee ballots are ready (30-45 days before election)||Three business days before election, unless the voter has an acceptable excuse.||Municipal clerks’ offices|
|Massachusetts||Seventeen days before election for state biennial elections; 10 days before election for presidential or state primaries.||Four days before an election||Early voting sites, which includes the local election office. Additional locations may be provided at the discretion of the city or town registrar.|
|New York||Tenth day before election||Second day before an election||At least one early voting location for every full increment of 50,000 registered voters in each county, but not more than seven are required.|
|New Jersey||Ten days before the election, but in-person absentee voting begins forty-five days before election.||Sunday before election||Each county board of elections shall designate at least three and up to seven but not more than 10 based on the number of registered voters.|