A ballot measure this November seeks to amend Connecticut’s constitution in order to allow legislation removing restrictions on absentee ballots and open the door to early voting.
If voters answer Question 1 — the only question before them this election — in the affirmative, the state legislature will be able to consider legislation for expanded absentee ballot access, early voting or both. The Connecticut constitution currently prohibits early voting and allows absentee ballots only for those who can prove they are out of the state on Election Day or are unable to get to the polls.
Proponents of the measure, including members of the Yale College Democrats, claim early voting would enable students and people with unpredictable work schedules to easily participate in the democratic process.
“We’re not excused from class to go vote, but if early voting passes, then political participation is made much easier for us,” said Lily Sawyer-Kaplan ’17, communications director for the Dems.
Sawyer-Kaplan said the Dems plan to publicize the measure as part of their campaign efforts this fall and hope to encourage Connecticut voters to support it.
Andrea Barragan ’16, president of the Yale College Republicans, said the group has no official position on the measure.
Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia currently allow some form of early voting, which requires voters to appear in person at a designated polling place but enables them to do so before Election Day. Additionally, 27 states and the District allow voters to request absentee ballots without providing a reason.
Detractors in Connecticut argue such measures could lead to fraud. Republican State Senator Len Fasano — the minority leader pro tempore — voted with most of his Republican colleagues against the constitutional amendment both times it appeared in the state legislature, in 2012 and 2014. To pass, a constitutional amendment must be approved by the state legislature in two consecutive terms — unless it passes with a supermajority in one term — and is then supported by a majority of voters.
Fasano said he is concerned that early voting would allow activists to pressure people into voting before they have all the information they need and that current practices give everyone enough access to the polls.
“The polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., plenty of time for people get out there and vote before work or after work,” Fasano said.
State Senate majority leader Martin Looney, who supports the amendment, said he thinks restricted voting times present a hurdle to many voters. But he shares some of Fasano’s concern that expanding access to absentee ballots could undermine the secrecy of the ballot, even potentially enabling activists to bully voters into filling out their ballots a certain way.
Looney emphasized that passing the ballot measure would not itself change Connecticut elections but rather leave it up to the legislature to consider changes. He said he attributes Republican opposition to the belief that the constitutional amendment would eventually benefit Democrats.
“They try to say that their reasons are to discourage fraud, but their real reason is they believe the more restrictions on voting and the smaller the turnout, the better they do,” Looney said.
Fasano rejected Looney’s characterization of Republican opposition, pointing out that the GOP isn’t exactly coasting under the current set of voting laws.
“The governor is a Democrat. The lieutenant governor is a Democrat. All of our congressional people are Democrats. They have a majority in the [state] House and a majority in the [state] Senate. You tell me how the Republicans have been advantaged by the election system,” Fasano said.
Gary Rose, chairman of the department of government and politics at Sacred Heart University, said he thinks the measure will pass, continuing the state’s move towards less restrictive voting practices. He added that in tight races, early voting or expanded access to absentee ballots could help tip the scale towards Democratic candidates.
His hesitation regarding the amendment, however, mainly stems from another effect it could bring: the devaluation of Election Day as a hallowed occasion in American public life.
“It becomes almost a drive-through experience if you have early voting like this,” Rose said. “It just doesn’t seem to elevate the importance of that very special day where Americans pick their representatives.”
Connecticut has amended its constitution 31 times since 1970.