From The State House: To Vote Or Not To Vote And When?

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.

NB Politicus

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

StateEarly Voting BeginsEarly Voting EndsLocations
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 electionEarly voting sites, which includes the local election office. Additional locations may be provided at the discretion of the city or town registrar.  
New YorkTenth day before electionSecond day before an electionAt 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 JerseyTen days before the election, but in-person absentee voting begins forty-five days before election.Sunday before electionEach 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.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)

DeFronzo on City Charter Referendum: “No Thank You”

Former Mayor Sees Less Accountability, Conflicts At City Hall If Ballot Questions Are Approved

Don DeFronzo said “no thank you” to city charter revisions on this year’s ballot at a public forum on Nov. 2 in a cogent takedown of the most sweeping changes to municipal government in a generation. He found a receptive audience who filled the community room at the public library.

A former Mayor and the Governor O’Neill Chair in Public Policy at CCSU, DeFronzo took particular issue with appointing instead of electing the Tax Collector and Town Clerk and the creation of a mayoral appointed chief administration officer (the equivalent of a city manager) to do the full time mayor’s duties.

NB Politicus Notebook

In prior letters to the New Britain Herald editor and in his talk at the library DeFronzo called inclusion of these fundamental changes in a “housekeeping” question “insulting” to voters. The ballot question (Question 3) hatched by Mayor Stewart and approved by her rubber-stamp Council caucus last June undermined the work of her own charter commission chaired by Sharon Beloin Saavedra. In making the recommendations the commission’s four specific ballot questions were dumped in a not so subtle move to hoodwink the voters.

DeFronzo called it “appalling” that no one on the Yes side, including the Mayor, her staff, 12 members of the Common Council and not one member of charter commission agreed to debate the questions despite good faith efforts to hold a moderated discussion. The Vote Yes Committee led by Norm Dorval held an October 18th discussion at City Hall and encountered strong opposition from most of the attendees who were as troubled as DeFronzo. There would be no more information sessions from the Yes crowd. Proponents have gone into hiding and responded with a slick citywide political mailer and a robo call from Mayor Stewart in a campaign most likely financed by her cronies and those who seek to do business with the city. “Their refusal to debate is prima facia evidence that these proposals can not stand up to public scrutiny,” observed DeFronzo bluntly calling Question 3 “disrespectful to New Britain voters.”

A two-term mayor and four-term state senator, DeFronzo had no problem with Question 2 because it clearly asks for a change in the way the Common Council is elected from an at large/ward system to 15 members from five wards chosen under the minority representation law. He noted that Council composition has been a perennial issue for 40 years going from all at large to the hybrid system adopted in 2002.

In his remarks DeFronzo focused criticisms on eliminating direct, popular election of the Town Clerk and Tax Collector, the creation of the COO (city manager) in the full time Mayor’s office and moving the Water Department administrator into Public Works.

“There can only be one reason for lumping all these items into one general question with no information. That is to facilitate approval of the question by shielding the controversial issues from public view through a lack of transparency,” DeFronzo said. “If these questions were presented separately voters would have the opportunity to view each one on its merits and to vote in favor of the Town Clerk and Tax Collector changes and against the new half a million dollar COO position proposed for creation as an appointed office,”

“The first part removes from voters the power to directly elect the Town Clerk and Tax Collector as has been done for decades. Direct elections will be replaced by giving the current and future mayors the authority to appoint these positions adding to the growing number of patronage positions being established in City Hall. Interestingly enough, over the years, there have been few complaints about the conduct of these elected officials and the current incumbents perform their duties competently. Do we really need this change and the additional level of appointed patronage?

The second part of the proposal would create a Chief Operations Officer (COO) who will again be appointed by the mayor, further increasing the number of patronage positions. The COO will have the authority to run the City’s day-to-day operations – powers which are currently assigned to the mayor.Now there are no changes, or reductions in the mayor’s powers being proposed so, as a result,if approved, you would have two high priced positions with nearly identical powers and duties. What is being created is “strong mayor”, “strong manager” form of government something I have never seen before.This proposed change creates a series of important conflicts and questions?

First, who is really in charge?

The powers assigned to the COO are virtually identical to the powers of mayor. So how will this work?

A resident calls the mayor’s office about a pot hole. That complaint, under this new structure, is now sent to the COO’s office who filters it down to the appropriate city agency for action. This is clearly duplicative and confusing. It blurs the lines of authority, needlessly increases the bureaucracy and the size and cost of government.

This interchange is further confused by the role of the mayor’s chief of staff (COS) who routinely would do exactly what the new highly paid COO will do. More duplication and more confusion. As a result, day to day administration, which now squarely sits with mayor, will be fragmented into three different positions. What possibly could go wrong?

In many communities that opt for a COO or City Manager clear lines of authority are maintained, and costs contained, by reducing the role the mayor from a full time to a part time ceremonial position. This type of change would avoid the duplicative and confusing process that is now being proposed in NB by clearly vesting the COO with primary administrative authority. In addition, model city charters, discussed by the National Civic League, make reference to strong city managers in the context weak mayors and strong city councils. It seems NB is headed in the wrong direction.

A second question is how much will all this cost?

Voters should know in advance of voting how much this new office of COO will cost. The Council conveniently failed to address that issue and no estimate of cost has been provided, but I’m going to give you one. A modest estimate for a COO, office staff required to carry out his/her functions, equipment, travel cost and associated expenditures will easily exceed half a million dollars annually.Voters should know that.

A third question is, will the COO, as supporters of the COO position claim, provide a greater continuity in government when there is a change in the mayor’s office? Unfortunately, this is a false claim. The Connecticut landscape is littered with the unemployed Town and City mangers who were fired or replaced immediately following a change in administration. Continuity in government is not provided by elected officials or highly paid appointed officials, it is provided for by mid level career civil servants who devoted the programs they run. Personally, I place no value in the continuity argument.

Another question is what other implications does this “strong mayor” “strong manager” have for NB?

One particularly important issue is the matter of crisis management. There is no provision whatsoever, in the proposed charter changes that clearly defines who has operational authority should a true crisis condition exists in the city. The confusion that could result from this omission could be horrific as department heads receive potentially contradictory directions from either the mayor, the mayor’s COS or the COO. The spectical of 400 armed police officers in a state of paralysis in Uvalde Texas as three different levels of police administration– state, city and border – were seemingly confused in determining who was actually in command should be a concern for all of us. Crisis management demands the establishment of clear and unambiguous lines of authority. The current Charter proposals fail to provide that. In todays world failure to be prepared for a crisis is just not acceptable.

There are several other administrative proposals such as eliminating the Water Department and merging its functions with the Public Works Department. This is historically significant as the Water Department has always been an autonomous agency established to protect water as a precious natural resource. No reference to this change, or justification for it, has been produced by the City Council raising questions as to why its being done. This is a proposal that deserves a lot more attention.

It is important to note that we all want professional management of city resources and we all know changes in city government are inevitable, but what we don’t need are half baked ideas that have been shielded from public scrutiny by elected officials who clearly have chosen not to talk about, or defend, these important proposals. Until a meaningful debate on these proposed charter changes and their impact can take place, voters should simply say no thank you on ballot question 3.”

Former Mayor and State Senator Don DeFronzo, November 2, 2022

End Quote: Inspiration from Election Day 2018

“I drove 93-year-old Alice Cap to New Britain’s Slade Middle School just after 8 this morning in a misty rain. She wanted to get out early to vote.  She reminded me of that old superstition that rain means good luck for the Democrats. “The sun was out when Trump was elected two years ago,” she said before going into the polling place.

A big concern for Alice are the blatant attempts to deny African Americans and others the right to vote and all the coarseness and divisiveness she sees from the current occupant of the WH.  POTUS, she said, reminds her of the  “emperor with no clothes” and she had something to say and do about it today. Thanks Alice.”

(Alice Cap, a Stanley retiree, passed away in 2021 but the memory of her citizenship as a member of the “greatest generation” lives on.)

In Lieu Of Early Voting CT Has A New AB Voting Option For The 2022 Election

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.

A Lamont campaign mailer as absentee ballots become available in Connecticut

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.

Why Trump’s Party Rallies in New Britain

Mayor Stewart’s former campaign headquarters is one of 20 “RNC Community Centers” in the nation where “Stop The Steal” workshops are occurring

By John McNamara

Ronna McDaniel, the national Republican Party’s Chairperson and Donald Trump sycophant, made her way to New Britain this week to blast not one Democrat but all Democrats as favoring “greed, communism, and crazy. And that’s what they are for.” New Britain may be an unlikely town for the Republican Party to base its operations in blue Connecticut, but early this year Mayor Erin Stewart handed the keys to her West Main Street headquarters over to the Republican National Committee (RNC).

An RNC Center in New Britain is purportedly part of an urban strategy to help George Logan, a former state senator newly relocated to the 5th Congressional District (CD), defeat U.S. Rep Jahana Hayes (D-5) on November 8th. Large winning margins for the Democratic nominee in New Britain have kept the state’s most competitive CD blue ever since Chris Murphy toppled Nancy Johnson (R-6) in 2006. The RNC gambit here is to cut into that Democratic base with outreach to Hispanic and Black precincts in the cities. Like Hayes, Logan is an African American.

On Wednesday (September 14) McDaniel was touting Logan and U.S. Senate Nominee and Trump endorsed Leora Levy of Greenwich at the store front gathering of Republican officials that drew plenty of Connecticut media.

NB Politicus

“The Democrats do not care about our families, they do not care about our kids, they do not care because their priorities in Washington have done anything but help the American people and they do not care, but you know what? We do,” said McDaniel in shrill talking points on behalf of Republican candidates as reported by CT News Junkie.

Not to be seen at the rally, however, were Republican Gubernatorial Nominee Bob Stefanowski and Mayor Stewart, who obligingly cut the ribbon on the RNC Community Center in March but was no where near the place this week.

Stewart would have had a hard time standing next to McDaniel as McDaniel accused Democrats of not caring about our “families” and “kids”. Her administration is using the Biden Administration’s $56 million in local COVID funding as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a law that was enacted without a single Republican vote in the U.S. House. Stewart is announcing initiatives and projects with barely a mention that the money comes from the Democrats’ “Washington priorities” trashed by McDaniel, Logan and Levy on the campaign trail. Now the Inflation Reduction Act is on the way, also without a single Republican vote in Congress, with provisions on energy, climate and local aid that mayors are lining up for in a pandemic recovery.

In state politics, Stewart doesn’t really owe Republicans anything for this election cycle. They have not been kind to the multi-term mayor in a Democratic city who pundits say would have cross-over appeal in a general election. Her cancelled gubernatorial run and primary loss for Lt Governor in 2018 showed the GOP base would never support her socially moderate views and weren’t interested in her “fiscally responsible” budgets that, Democratic critics say, rely heavily on borrowing to kick current obligations down the road.

It’s also possible that Stefanowski, who purchased the Republican nomination for a second time, snubbed Stewart even to be on a short list in picking a Lt. Governor candidate this year. With the Trump effect still in play, the party has moved further to the fringe on a woman’s right to choose, guns and the right to vote. Though Stewart is as partisan a Republican as there is in governing, it is not in her interest inside New Britain to be associated with the Republican Party at least for now. Her plentiful “Democrats for Stewart” lawn signs in municipal years confirm the unwritten rule that the label Republican shall never be used.

New Britain’s RNC Center, one of 20 around the country targeting Black and Hispanic voters, does not appear to be an operations center yet for turning blue to red in New Britain aside from some anecdotal reports of door-to-door activity in the city. The office has been largely shuttered save for a grand opening in March and this week’s rally. Ominously, it has been the site for the GOP’s “election security” training held out of the public eye. A “Learn how to become a poll watcher” workshop drew the ire of Democratic Party Chair Nancy Dinardo and Common Cause CT in July, a sure sign that even in Connecticut the “Stop the Steal” movement and false claims of 2020 vote fraud are being embraced by the CT GOP to the detriment of voter access and participation in 2022.

Related Links and Credits:

Campaign dollars soared in ’21 municipal election but voter participation declined

28% Turnout Continues A Downward Trend In Voting For Local Office Holders

By John McNamara

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics” goes the observation first coined in the 1960s that applies to almost every state and federal election cycle as all kinds of committees and special interests raise billions in reported and anonymous donations.

That old saying about money in politics applies less frequently to local elections where votes are more easily won (or should be) on the ground and neighbor to neighbor without big outlays for media and consultants. You can’t say that about New Britain’s 2021 municipal election when the money race accelerated, voter participation declined and the status quo at City Hall was overwhelmingly sustained.

Last year marked the first time in memory that turnout dropped below 30 percent while mayoral campaign money for the November 2 election exceeded $30 for every vote cast. New Britain is not alone in a decline in voter participation for local elections, especially in mid- and large-sized cities. Cities across the state and nation continued to register lower turnouts last year. But by bottoming out at 28%, New Britain fell below the already dismal 32.13% statewide turnout.

Last year marked the first time in memory that turnout dropped below 30 percent while mayoral campaign money for the November 2 election exceeded $30 for every vote cast

Incumbent Erin Stewart handily won a fifth term over State Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) and swept a Council majority in with her as a super majority of eligible voters failed to show up.

Because of a Presidential Year bounce in 2020, there were 2,270 more eligible voters in 2021 than in 2019. In her landslide win, however, Erin Stewart received fewer votes than the 2019 totals as the turnout gap widened between municipal and state and federal ballots.

Despite campaign cash aplenty voter turnout continued a decline in the 2021 municipal election. (

Four mayoral campaigns involving three Democrats and Republican Stewart reported contributions totaling $384,900 by the end of 2021. The Democratic and Republican Town Committees added another $53,000 to the “off year” election cycle bringing the reported political cash to $437,900 to get out the vote. The totals do not include under ticket slate or candidate committees that drove donations well past $450,000.

Mayor Stewart’s “Re-Elect Erin” Committee raised $178,835 and spent $175,835. Stewart, tapping the advantages of incumbency, outpaced Bobby Sanchez’ fundraising by nearly $60,000. Sanchez’ committee raised and spent $116,518. Democratic mayoral challengers Veronica DeLandro and Alicia Strong raised another $90,000 combined. Strong raised and spent $21,000 in losing to the endorsed Sanchez in September’s primary. DeLandro’s committee raised approximately $69,000 but her committee failed to gather sufficient signatures to get on the primary ballot. DeLandro has subsequently formed her own “Bee The Change” political action committee (PAC), and may have converted a significant treasury into an ongoing PAC.

Last year’s surge in fundraising can be attributed to several factors. Incumbent Stewart did not take the potential of a serious and well-funded challenge for granted. She ramped up her fundraising and leaned into the perks that go with incumbency. “The Democrats showed early signs of political energy, with three determined candidates running for mayor.” observed a post-election story in The New Britain Progressive. “Whether that early momentum will continue into success in future elections remains to be seen, but it certainly did not manifest in the November elections in 2021.”

Stewart effectively pursued a Walnut Hill Park “Rose Garden strategy” in winning a fifth, two-year term. Few sparks flew between Stewart and Sanchez to stir voter interest with the incumbent largely ignoring the Democratic nominee. The incumbent even managed to ungracefully ignore a traditional League of Women Voters debate that would have been the only public forum of the campaign. Her salvos were directed at the school administration over social media related disruptions at the high school last fall making it seem at times that Erin Stewart was running against School Superintendent Nancy Sarra. For his part Sanchez earnestly pointed to his work as the Legislature’s Education Chair in delivering record amounts for school construction and school aid and called for a City Hall more responsive to neighborhoods. Stewart, meanwhile, cut the ribbon on renovations at the Chamberlain School and other developments in romping to a low-turnout victory.

While voter turnout in the 2020 Presidential Election was close to 70 per cent in the year of the pandemic in New Britain, the 2021 municipal race continued the widespread slide in the number of voters who elect local office holders. Some reformers at think tanks that study voting patterns have proposed aligning all elections from dog catcher to President to even numbered years for bigger turnouts. Legislatures or localities, however, show no signs of taking that step which involves a lengthy process of changing statutes and charters.

For New Britain it will surely take more than campaign dollars that were so plentiful last year to reverse that decline in voting in 2023.

Voter Participation In Last Three Municipal Elections In New Britain

  • 2017 Voter Participation 30% | 31,899 Eligible and 9,684 Voting
  • 2019 Voter Participation 32% | 31,205 Eligible and 9,945 Voting
  • 2021 Voter Participation 28% | 33,475 Eligible and 9,333 Voting

Stuck in the 18th Century: State Constitution Impedes Voting By Mail, Early Voting

By John McNamara

Pandemic Prompts Legislation To Allow Absentee Voting Option For All In November But Ballot Reforms Shouldn’t Stop There

Our license plates proudly proclaim Connecticut the “Constitution State” because the state constitution was one of the colonial documents that guided the Founders of the nation when they wrote the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

While a score of other states have ballot access via vote by mail and periods of early voting before Election Day, Connecticut is stuck in another century because of its storied Constitution and a restrictive absentee voting statute.

Amid the public health threat of pandemic the absentee voting statute is expected to change at a special session of the General Assembly in July. Governor Lamont, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Democratic legislative leaders are on board to extend absentee voting to every voter this year. As Merrill said to Meriden’s “Drinking Liberally” Zoom political forum on June 9th: “The last thing we want is to have people make a choice between their health and their vote.”

Opposition can be expected from Republican Party leaders intent on restricting voter access as much as possible. CT Republican Chair J.R. Romano is hard at work parroting the discredited assertions of voter fraud.

The need to add a public health emergency option to the absentee voting law would have been moot had a 2014 constitutional amendment referendum been approved in that year’s gubernatorial election. To the question “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?” a majority (52%) voted no. Proponents blamed an underfunded “Yes” campaign and the wording of the question for its defeat. A contributing factor was the fact that almost 150,000 more voters chose a Governor but never made it to the question at the bottom of the ballot. The amendment lost by 38,000. Approval would have empowered the legislature to enact “no excuse” absentee voting and paved the way for early voting that accounts for an increasing percentage of turnout in other states.

Connecticut law limits use of absentee balloting to those who will be out of town on election day, members of the armed forces, for an illness or physical disability, religious beliefs and for serving as an election official other than at a place than where you vote. It’s likely this summer’s legislation will extend the right to vote by mail when an illness-causing public health emergency exists to stay within the bounds of the constitution.

Secretary of the State Merrill says she is working with local registrars to open all polling places on November 3rd with any required social distancing that’s needed. A statewide secure mailing operation will be used to support voting by mail for any voter who wants to do so as long as the Legislature revises the absentee voting law. Her office has a $5 million COVID 19 federal grant to meet election costs but could probably use more. According to Merrill, election officials at the local and state level face a daunting task to ensure full voter access but that steps are being taken now “to make this a smooth election.”

One of the unintended consequences of COVID-19 may be to accelerate the movement to adopt post-pandemic statutory and constitutional changes allowing no excuse absentee voting and early voting in Connecticut.

In April the New Britain Democratic Town Committee (DTC) adopted a resolution to extend absentee voting to all this year and called for a new campaign to change the constitution. The DTC also endorsed the federal Natural Disaster and Emergency Ballot Act of 2020 now before Congress that would extend voter access and provide states with new funding for election security.

The nonpartisan CT-SAM Task Force, led by former Metro Hartford Alliance CEO and gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, is primarily pushing ranked-choice voting, term limits and open primaries but its platform also includes “removing obstacles to legal voter registration and….early voting, vote-at-home options, and/or by making election day a national holiday.”

Beyond this pandemic a broad-based and well supported coalition will be needed to make the permanent changes in the Constitution in a 2022 referendum. “It’s very difficult to change a constitution,” notes Secretary Merrill. “This situation has laid bare the limitations in Connecticut.” The hope is we can keep our venerable Constitution but tweak it enough to allow full voting access in the 21st century.