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30 Democrats published a letter last week calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to hold a special session to discuss voting reform legislation.

The letter, led by Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, urges Lamont to call a special session of the legislature to debate and pass a bill that would, among other things, expand on automatic voter registration in Connecticut and allow citizens on parole to vote.

The bill, which was originally introduced in the previous legislative session, passed the state House earlier this year, but was never taken up in the Senate. Lawmakers specifically urged Lamont to act quickly to have voting reforms implemented by 2020.

“At a time when many states are implementing restrictive policies that turn voters away, Connecticut has a unique opportunity to become a progressive leader on elections with the passage of your reform package,” the letter stated. “We believe it is crucial that we act in Special Session to ensure many of the protections you included in your package are in place in time for the 2020 elections.”

The broad voting reform bill would expand a 2016 law allowing automatic voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles. If passed, it will automatically register all Connecticut citizens — not just drivers — to vote anytime they interact with a government agency and fill out paperwork. Residents would be able to opt-out, but by default would automatically be registered.

In a press release following the announcement of the letter, Conneticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill emphasized the importance of expanding automatic voter registration before the 2020 elections.

“More than 300,000 new voters have registered through Automatic Voter Registration at the DMV since we implemented this successful program administratively in 2016, and codifying and expanding it will help Connecticut’s voter rolls remain as up to date as possible,” Merrill said.

Legislators also said the bill would increase efficiency of Connecticut’s same-day registration by allowing citizens to register at polling locations, not just at town halls. Last year, hundreds of New Haven residents, and many Yale students, waited in line for multiple hours to register at city hall on election day, as that was the only place in town where it was permitted.

In addition, the bill would allow all parolees in Connecticut to vote, which every other state in New England currently permits.

In an interview with the News, Hughes said that it was important for the bill to be addressed now, rather than during the 2020 short session. If passed in March or April, it may not give the registrars of voters enough time to successfully implement the changes in time for the 2020 election, Hughes said. Merrill agreed with this sentiment and said that it is important to pass the reforms before the “busy 2020 election year.”

The letter’s 30 Democratic authors — 29 members of the House and one senator, Will Haskell D-Redding — are waiting for leadership to act. While the letter was addressed to Lamont, who was the original sponsor of the bill earlier in 2019, Senate or House leadership is also able to call a special session. In a statement sent to the News, Lamont expressed support for the bill but did not directly address the request for a special session.

“As Americans, it is our duty to make voting and voter registration easier and more accessible to every eligible citizen. That’s why Governor Lamont introduced the election reform bill that includes Automatic Voter Registration and major improvements to Election Day Registration,” Lamont’s spokesperson Rob Blanchard said. “While he was disappointed that it did not pass last session, he looks forward to collaboratively working with the legislators to ensure this critical legislation is carried over the finish line.”

Lamont may opt to call a special session on a number of issues in addition to voting reform, such as tolls and transportation or tipped-wage workers. Last month, a public hearing was called to discuss redrafting a bill to address complicated questions regarding fair compensation for tipped-workers, after Lamont vetoed a related bill at the end of the previous legislative session earlier this year.

Additionally, there is still some talk of a special session to address the issues of tolls, which was a contentious issue earlier in 2019 and was left unresolved. Lamont put forward a plan to increase the number of tolls in Connecticut in order to raise more revenue, but was faced with broad criticism by many Republicans, and Connecticut voters throughout the state.

If a special session is called, it may address any combination of these three issues — voting reform, tipped-wage workers and tolls. The voting reform bill may also see changes as it moves the legislative process, as it’s unclear if Senate and House leadership, along with Lamont, sees the same urgency to act now as the thirty Democrats on the letter. The letter was also publicly endorsed by at least two organizations that work on voting reform, Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Common Cause in Connecticut.

“We strongly encourage the Governor and legislature to act now in order to ensure these reforms are in place for next year’s elections and are not taken hostage again late in a short session,” said Tom Swan — Executive Director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group — in a press release. “They will result in more people participating, save towns money, and ensure our elections are more secure.”

Connecticut’s 2020 legislative session is scheduled to begin on Feb. 5 and conclude on May 6.

 

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu