A referendum on Nov. 4 will give voters in the Constitution State the opportunity to amend their state constitution for the first time since 2008.
Connecticut residents will be asked whether state citizens should be permitted to cast a ballot without visiting a polling place on election day, regardless of reason. The measure would eliminate the existing requirement of disability, sickness, travel or religious observance in order to cast an absentee vote and would expunge associated deadlines for vote tabulating. If the referendum passes, Connecticut could follow the 33 other states that have adopted no-excuse absentee voting rights.
Across the nation, state constitutions have served as laboratories for instituting democratized voting laws. Currently, 23 states have already enacted an early voting process, and Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said that her explicit vision for the amendment is to create an early voting process.
Democrats interviewed extolled early voting for increasing the accessibility of the ballot box.
“Allowing early voting in Connecticut is a civil rights issue, ensuring that all eligible voters have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process,” said Rebecca Ellison ’15, president of the Yale College Democrats.
Nonetheless, some experts fear that the measure could open elections up to fraud and reduce civic efficacy — discouraging, for example, pollsters who see a candidate reportedly in an early lead — without significant positive effects.
Yale professor of political science Eitan Hersh, who teaches two courses in election strategy, said he questioned the amendment’s implications for voter turnout.
“If your goal is to make voting easier and more pleasant for the people who already vote, early voting is a policy to get behind,” Hersh said. “But, if your goal is to increase voting among the kinds of citizens who do not vote regularly in elections, the research suggests that you’ll be disappointed. Early voting does not appear to increase turnout among voters who aren’t already regular voters.”
Since Connecticut is not typically a swing state in national elections, Hersh expressed doubt that the early voting period could be used to mobilize supporters, but conceded that such a law would have that effect on the national scale.
Nonetheless, new laws have made their way into the federal statutes before. Since U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis articulated the state’s role as a risk-free policy laboratory in the 1932 case New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, voters have seen federal policies, ranging from universal healthcare to minimum wage tax hikes, emerge from state law.
Democrats such as Gov. Dannel Malloy have said they hope no-excuse balloting also enters national norms. Many believe the implications are extensive, particularly in close elections like that for the presidency in 2000, in which an early lead for one candidate could have led to greater mobilization by the opposite party.
Conservative arguments, however, still persist for maintaining current laws.
“I don’t think early voting is an issue we know enough about in terms of consequences … to merit space in a constitution,” said Hersh.
As it currently stands, according to Headcount.org, Connecticut is the only state in the country with neither early voting nor in-person absentee voting.