The resolution seeks to ask voters whether the state constitution should be “amended to permit the General Assembly to allow each voter to vote by absentee ballot?”
Connecticut state statute does currently allow for absentee voting but stipulates conditions voters must meet in order to be eligible to receive an absentee ballot. These include service in the military, absence from town on the day of voting, sickness, physical disability, religious faith that precludes a person from participating in secular activities on the day of an election, and civic duties that require a voter to work at a polling place during the hours of an election.
The resolution seeks to remove those restrictions by asking voters to give the General Assembly authority to legislate on the subject. If the resolution is passed by the Senate and voters approve the question, the General Assembly would have authority to pass legislation passing and regulating no-excuse absentee voting.
Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, said Connecticut has “some of the most restrictive voting related laws in the country and have had them for most of our existence as a state” during introductory remarks about the resolution. He added that the state’s absentee voting laws are no exception and noted that, according to the National Conference of State Legislators, 35 states currently have no-excuse absentee voting. That figure accounts for 27 states and Washington, D.C. that have no excuse absentee voting and an additional eight states that conduct elections entirely by mail.
“We have made changes to our absentee voting laws recently to make them more accommodating and accessible to the voters, but we have run up against a limit. We are still handcuffed by that state constitution. What we’re talking about today is a resolution to amend our state constitution to loose those shackles and allow the legislature to further expand access to absentee voting.” Blumenthal said.
The resolution faced pushback from Republicans, who expressed concern about whether no-excuse absentee voting would impact election integrity and also questioned whether it was necessary given the chamber voted for a bill that would allow early voting on May 4.
Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, had an extensive back-and-forth with Blumenthal about the bill, asking questions through the Speaker of the House. Mastrofrancesco first asked about the specific meaning of the language “to permit the General Assembly” in the proposed ballot question.
Blumenthal responded that the language would “simply say in the constitution that we can legislate regarding allowing voters to vote by absentee [ballot] if they will not appear at the polling place on the day of election, regardless of the reason.” He noted that the passage of the referendum would not mean the state automatically has no-excuse absentee ballot. Passage of the referendum would allow the General Assembly “to legislate on the subject and then we will have to choose as the General Assembly whether and how to do so.”
Mastrofrancesco also questioned what the amendment would give the power to legislate.
“We would not be mandated to decide that everyone should have access to no-excuse absentee balloting. We could theoretically decide we wanted to have certain excuses or not, but we’re currently not allowed to deviate from the constitutional language. If we pass this amendment to the constitution that would allow us as the General Assembly the discretion to decide the scope of absentee balloting.” Blumenthal responded.
Mastrofrancesco’s questioning continued, asking if the legislature would be able to decide to mail voters in the state absentee ballots, regardless of whether they were requested, or could delegate power to the secretary of state to do so. In both cases, Blumenthal said the law did not give the legislature that power. It could theoretically delegate power to mail absentee ballot without request to the secretary of state, but doing so would require a separate law.
Mastrofrancesco also disagreed with Blumenthal’s characterization that Connecticut’s voter laws are among the strictest in the nation.
If we pass early voting, we probably won’t anymore. If we pass this, we won’t anymore.” Blumenthal added, noting that Connecticut is currently one of four states that doesn’t have access to early voting and one of the only states that does not have access to either early voting or no-excuse absentee voting.
“I absolutely disagree,” Mastofrancesco continued, “because when you use the word restrictive it means that you’re preventing somebody from voting. Nobody in this legislature or the state of Connecticut has ever, ever prevented anybody from voting or restricted them from voting.”
She also said that she considers the state to already have no-excuse absentee voting because the ability to claim sickness as a qualification to receive an absentee ballot can be applied broadly.
Mastofrancesco’s questioning then turned to issues related to election security. She questioned why mandatory photo identification (ID) laws or signature verification are not required by the state or as part of no-excuse absentee voting.
Blumenthal responded by noting that “it’s been determined by the security experts that signature matching is not really an effective tool for identity confirmation or security.” He added that“as other identity confirmation measures or other security measures may become available, we would always have the opportunity to adopt them.”
State signature matching laws have seen increasing legal challenges in recent years. In 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously that mail ballots in the 2020 general election couldn’t be rejected over mismatched voter signatures. In 2018, the ACLU won cases in New Hampshire, California, and Georgia over ballots being thrown out over mismatched signatures.
Mastrofrancesco concluded her remarks by saying she would support the amendment if some security measures were in place.
“I would support this amendment 100% if we had some measures in place, and I don’t mean to keep harping on it but those are the facts, people. There’s none. We have no security, no measures in place. And that is why I oppose this amendment today.” she said.
Several other Republicans also rose to speak against the bill, several echoing Mastrofrancesco’s remarks about election security. Other arguments questioned the need of the measure given the chamber’s recent passage of early voting.
“We just voted on early voting, so why do we need to open up the constitution to be tinkered with again? If we didn’t go early voting there would be an argument for no-excuse absentee voting. But we’re not even voting on that. We’re voting essentially to allow the General Assembly to open up the constitution and do whatever they want. This is not how constitutional reform is supposed to work.” said Rep. Francis Cooley, R-Plainville
Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, spoke mostly in support of the bill, saying that conceptually he supported absentee ballots. He sought assurance from Blumenthal that the resolution would prevent ballot harvesting from occurring, referencing an incident that occurred during Stamford’s 2015 municipal elections.
Blumenthal stated that no-excuse absentee voting would make vote harvesting riskier, as those looking to commit fraud would not know who was applying an absentee ballot. “Trying to harvest ballots on behalf of people who didn’t ask for them only makes sense if you don’t think they’re going to try to ask for them.” said Blumenthal.
O’Rea, who did vote for the resolution, concluded by saying he was“Hopeful that when this passes we are going to do some real legislation to protect the sanctity of our voting.”
Following remarks from several more Republican members, voting on the resolution commenced. It passed by a vote of 113 to 38. As a resolution, it required only a simple majority vote, rather than the three-quarters majority of both legislative chambers required of a Constitutional amendment. In 2021, the legislature sought to pass a Constitutional amendment that would have allowed no-excuse absentee voting. That resolution failed to garner the necessary votes.
To appear before voters in 2024, the resolution must now pass the Senate by a simple majority.