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State Voting Changes Go To Referendum In 2014

The Senate voted along party lines Wednesday night to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2014 that could open the door to early voting in Connecticut in time for the 2016 presidential election.

If approved by voters, the General Assembly would have the flexibility to consider a number of election changes that are now precluded by Connecticut’s unusual constitutional restrictions on the use of absentee ballots.

The 22-14 vote was the last legislative step in a process that required the House and Senate to approve a constitutional referendum question twice in consecutive years in order for voters to now have their say.

“Today marks a historic and significant step forward for modernizing elections in Connecticut so we can finally enact early voting in our state,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said.

Every Democrat voted in favor, except for Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury. Republicans voted against with the exception of Sen. Kevin Witkos of Canton, who also voted for the measure last year.

“I think now is the time to move us forward,” Witkos said.

In the fall of 2014, when the ballot will be dominated by a gubernatorial election, voters will be asked: “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?”

Republicans, who say they supported greater flexibility of the use of absentee ballots, complained that the question could open the state to everything from early voting to Internet voting.

“I don’t think many people would read this question and say, ‘Oh, this might allow me to cast my ballot a week in advance,’” said Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield.

“That’s the really the problem I am having with this proposal,” said Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury. “We’re hearing all kinds of suggestions of what a yes vote means.”

The GOP minority’s arguments sounded like a rehearsal for 2014, when they are expected to warn voters that approval of the amendment would open the door to the unknown.

“It really opens the door to a lot of things without letting the public know where are going,” said Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol.

Sen. Anthony Musto, D-Trumbull, said the referendum would give voters “more access to our electoral process,” but the Democratic majority largely ceded the floor to the GOP minority.

Thirty states now have some form of early voting, according to the secretary of the state’s office.

Merrill, who is the state’s chief elections officer, said the state must consider ways to boost voter turnout in Connecticut.

Nearly one-third of eligible voters are not registered, barely 30 percent of registered voters turned out in the 2011 municipal elections and only 57 percent voted in 2010, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy won the closest gubernatorial election in a half-century.

Malloy backs passage of the referendum.

(This story originally appeared at CTMirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror, an independent, non-profit news organization covering government, politics, and public policy in the state.)

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