Should something be done to make sure expanding how and when people vote doesn’t lead to increased fraud and abuse? Yes.
Getting people to the polls to actually exercise their right to vote has been getting more difficult. Some of it is because people’s lives are busier than ever, some of it is growing cynicism with politics and public officials (”What difference does it make who wins? They’re all the same, anyway”), and some of it is due to laziness and lack of civic engagement by citizens.
Connecticut voters may be able to play a role in enacting changes to make it easier for people to vote — by allowing residents to vote before Election Day, a practice that has gained in popularity across the nation in recent years.
The state legislature has approved a constitutional amendment that eventually could legalize various methods of early voting, such as in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee ballots, and mail-in voting.
Connecticut voters would have to play a role by approving the amendment, and after that the state legislature would have to pass a specific new voting law with a governor’s approval.
The amendment, to be voted on by Connecticut residents in November 2014, reads as follows: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?”
Currently, the state constitution restricts absentee voting to those who are absent from the town, ill, disabled, or forbidden by their religion from secular activity on Election Day.
If voters approve the amendment, laws could be passed to make absentee ballots available in more circumstances or without voters needing a specific reason. No-excuse absentee balloting is currently available in a majority of states.
Whether to liberalize election laws can became a partisan issue. Republicans worry that changing the laws could invite abuse, and they cite examples where election laws have been broken. While illegal voting activities can take place anywhere, it has been most prevalent in big cities and involved Democratic operatives. In this part of the state, Bridgeport and Waterbury are somewhat infamous for such practices.
It should be pointed out that abuses also have occurred on the Republican side, although less frequently, and many cases have involved Democratic primaries, town committee elections or convention delegate primaries, so the direct impact on Republicans is somewhat limited.
State Rep. Jason Perillo of Shelton, a Republican, is one of those who is concerned about changing the law. He thinks the proposed amendment “is far too broad, and truly runs the risk of compromising the integrity of votes that are cast for public office in the state.” He warns of “bad actors … who aim to manipulate the system and abuse it to impact elections.”
But look around the country and it’s obvious many states have liberalized their voting laws with little evidence this has led to an outbreak of illegal voting.
People are who are determined to break voting laws will find a way to try to do so no matter what the rules.
Certainly the state needs to do a better job investigating and punishing voter fraud. It’s a serious crime, but it can be hard to prove. Too often, punishment is light and handled by a state agency rather than the criminal justice system. The legislature should consider increasing fines and penalties for such activities as part of any law to alter the voting rules.
How and when we vote needs to change to keep up with modern circumstances. It’s inevitable. And the more people legally cast their ballots the better, no matter what the outcome.
It’s time for Connecticut to modernize its voting laws, and in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee ballots, and mail-in voting are all methods used elsewhere in the United States. While mail-in voting may be a step too far, in-person early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots are a way to get more people to vote in Connecticut without opening the floodgates to fraud.