Vote early in CT? It could become legal

Connecticut residents may be able to vote before Election Day in the future, a practice that has gained in popularity across the nation in recent years.

The state Senate has joined the state House of Representatives in approving a constitutional amendment that eventually could legalize various methods of early voting. Possible types of early voting could include in-person early voting, no excuse absentee ballots, or mail-in voting.

Connecticut voters will 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 wording of the amendment

The state Senate passage on Wednesday of a resolution by 22-14 ensures that the constitutional question will appear on the ballot for voters to ratify in November of 2014, with the following language: “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?”

The state House of Representatives approved a similar resolution by 90-49 in April. In addition, both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly approved the resolution during the 2012 legislative session, part of the requirement for amending the state constitution.

Constitution now has restrictions

The amendment, titled “Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the State Constitution to Grant Increased Authority to the General Assembly Regarding Election Administration,” would change the state constitution by removing an 80-year-old provision that 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 passed, the legislature would be able to craft laws making absentee ballots available in more circumstances or without voters needing a specific reason. So called “no excuse absentee balloting” is currently available in a majority of states.

The amendment also would remove the requirement that in-person votes be collected on Election Day, a technical change that would permit the Legislature to enact some form of early voting or mail-in voting.

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Shelton state Rep. Jason Perillo opposes the proposed amendment. Click below to watch a YouTube video of his remarks criticizing the measure at the state Capitol:

Malloy: Trying to ‘encourage voter turnout’

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, both Democrats, support the idea while state Rep. Jason Perillo, a Republican whose district covers most of Shelton, voted against the resolution.

“Voting is a great responsibility and this amendment assures the voting rights of every Connecticut resident whether or not they can get to the polls on Election Day,” Malloy said. “While some states are working to suppress voter turnout, we are working to encourage greater turnout by increasing penalties on any effort to block voter access and moving our electoral system into the 21st century.”

Merrill: “Modernizing elections’

Merrill, Connecticut’s chief elections official, called the legislative action “a historic and significant step forward for modernizing elections in Connecticut so we can finally enact early voting in our state...This is about allowing Connecticut voters cast their ballots in a way that works better with their busy mobile lives, and in turn getting more voters to participate in democracy.”

According to Merrill, 32 states have enacted some form of early voting or no-excuse absentee ballots, and more than 30 million Americans cast their ballots early in the 2012 presidential election.

Perillo: Could compromise vote integrity

State Rep. Jason Perillo said while voters live busy and mobile lives, 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 said unfortunately, not every voter is well intended. “There are those who work hard to abuse the system to their advantage,” he said, “In October of 2010, Sam Adoino and Sam Adoino Jr. took out 250 absentee ballots from the Bridgeport City Clerk’s Office under the address of 1238 North Avenue in Bridgeport. You know what is at that address? It’s a vacant lot.

“There are bad actors,” Perillo continued. “There are those who aim to manipulate the system and abuse it to impact elections. While we focus on those who want to do the right thing, we need to protect against those who do not. This amendment will make it easier for people like these to succeed in that effort.”