Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

On Monday, the Connecticut Government Administration and Elections Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly held a hearing on potential changes to the state’s election law — including two proposed constitutional amendments that would allow for the establishment of no-excuse mail-in voting and early voting.

The Zoom hearing for the proposed amendments — HJ-58 and HJ-59 — began on Monday morning and included testimony from politicians, activists and state residents. Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, as well as Dominic Rapini from the organization Fight Voter Fraud, opened the meeting. Rapini expressed opposition to the proposed amendments, arguing that local registrars’ offices in Connecticut’s towns are under-resourced and that no-excuse mail-in voting and early voting would unduly burden the system and lead to more opportunities for potential voter fraud. But Merrill testified that the proposed amendments would give the legislature greater “flexibility” to address crises like the COVID-19 pandemic as they occur.

“This is about the voters,” said Merrill. “This is not about the particular kind of administration we do, or anything else like that. It is about voters never having to choose again between their health and their vote.”

Currently, only certain valid excuses for absentee voting are allowed under the Connecticut state constitution. These excuses are physical absence, religious reasons and illness or physical disability. The proposed amendments would allow voters to request an absentee ballot even if they do not meet those qualifications and grant the legislature the power to establish early voting.

The overwhelming majority of testimony on Monday was given in favor of the two amendments, with representatives from organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, the AARP and the League of Women Voters all expressing their support. Many of the public testimonies explained practical barriers to voting — especially for certain populations such as the elderly and voters of color.

However, state Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco expressed concerns, saying that she thought it was important to first fix existing problems in order to ensure that voters have confidence in the integrity of elections.

Opponents of the legislation also emphasized that their criticism of the proposed amendment was not because of a desire to restrict voting access, but because of a desire to safeguard fair elections.

“We are all in favor of allowing people to vote and expanding access to voting,” state Sen. Rob Sampson said. “The fact of the matter is, though, that we have an obligation to protect the integrity of that vote.”

To ratify a constitutional amendment in Connecticut, it must be passed by the state legislature and then voted on by the general public. An amendment must pass the legislature in two consecutive terms before it goes to the public — unless it achieves a three-fourths majority in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate.

HJ-58 — the amendment regarding no-excuse absentee voting — is currently at the beginning of this process. The amendment concerning early voting, HJ-59, already passed once last legislative term and now needs only a simple majority. If HJ-59 achieves that, it could then be put to Connecticut voters in the November 2022 election.

In an interview with the News, Connecticut Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney expressed his support for both of the constitutional amendments, having already voted for the early voting amendment back in 2019. However, Looney said that it is not yet clear when any of the current proposed measures will come up for a vote in the assembly.

In addition to constitutional amendments, there are bills in both the state Senate and House whereby changes in voting procedure passed in response to COVID-19 last year would be temporarily extended.

Last July, the state passed legislation — HB-6002 — adding COVID-19 to the list of valid reasons to vote absentee. That bill passed with strong bipartisan support.

The next citywide election in New Haven, the municipal primaries, will take place on Sept. 14, 2021.

Bradley Nowacek | bradley.nowacek@yale.edu