Moving Stratford’s Election Process into the 21st Century

By: Barbara Heimlich
Editor Stratford Crier

Voting rights – Fair Elections –“The Big Lie” – Voter Repression – currently hot topics with friends, family, and others, most (if not all) display an arrogance using the State of Georgia as an example of backward thinking, and of course the first example they give is the oft quoted “no food and drink to those standing in line to vote”.

Would it surprise you to know that even in a progressive state like Connecticut, we have some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country? We have a chance to change that this legislative session by passing common-sense reforms like automatic voter registration, restoring voting rights for people on parole, and passing a Voting Rights Act to root out racial discrimination in voting.

The CT Legislature House Joint Resolution No. 59 “A Resolution Proposing An Amendment to the State Constitution to Permit Early Voting” is currently scheduled to go before the House of Representative for a vote on Monday.(for the complete bill go to: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2020/TOB/s/pdf/2020SJ-00015-R00-SB.PDF). Our State Representative Joe Gresko is a co-sponsor of this proposal.

The legislature would need to approve the absentee ballot resolution with the support of 75% of lawmakers in order to put the question before voters next year. If they pass it by simple majority, they would need to approve the resolution again in a different session and it would come before voters by 2024 at the earliest. The early voting resolution has already been approved once by simple majority and will be on the ballot next year if the legislature approves it again.

Neither provision is a new debate. Connecticut’s constitution contains specific language on both subjects and lawmakers have tried for years to amend it to make changing voting laws easier. Proponents succeeded in getting the absentee ballot question before voters in 2014, but residents rejected it at the polls.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill believes that voters feel differently now, after a record 35% of voters cast absentee ballots during last year’s election. The state took emergency action in 2020 to allow voters to cast ballots without risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus from other voters. About 650,000 people took the opportunity.

According to Merrill, “Times have changed, I think the 2020 election revealed that people could vote by absentee ballot safely and securely and I think they enjoyed it. They saw that the rest of the country was already doing it and I think it made a difference in the way people thought about it when they saw it in action.”

During a recent public hearing liberalizing the use of absentee ballots (where hundreds of organizations and resident spoke overwhelming in favor of the resolution) — as was temporarily allowed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic — Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said voters in his district were told at the polls that absentee ballots already had been cast in their names. In arguing with Secretary of the State Denise Merrill about the ease of voter fraud, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said voters in his district were told at the polls that absentee ballots already had been cast in their names.

Rep.Sampson, who made the statement while participating in the Government Administration and Elections Commission hearing, had to walk back his claim when he “clarified” one instance of voter fraud in his district during the last election occurred when a voter in Prospect showed up at the polls and was told an absentee ballot had already been cast in her name. That individual was eventually allowed to vote”. Forty-four other states have early voting (and yes, including Georgia), at least 29 have no-excuse absentee voting, and 23 have implemented automatic voter registration. It’s past time that the State of Connecticut joins them.

Also making its way through the state legislature is Senate Bill No. 820. This Bill was referred to Office of Legislative Research and Office of Fiscal Analysis for review on 04/21/21. State Representative Phil Young is a Co-Sponsor of S.B. No. 820 which calls for allowing automatic voter registration to go beyond the motor vehicles department to colleges and universities, public libraries and welfare offices. It would also ban guns within 200 feet of the entrance of any polling place – This is common sense – if you can’t have a political sign within 75 feet of a polling place why would you allow a weapon?

The measure calls for making permanent the use of the absentee ballot boxes that were bolted to the ground outside town hall for the 2020 elections. Using federal money, the state purchased 250 ballot boxes at a cost of $2,000 each that were widely used in the August 2020 presidential primaries and November general election. These boxes played a key role in sharply increasing absentee use as some voters, particularly the elderly, were afraid to head to the indoor polls during the coronavirus pandemic for fear of contracting COVID-19. We in Stratford (a town with the most Senior Citizens) should make it easier for our Seniors to vote.

Are we just going to moth-ball these boxes that total $500,000? All 169 towns in the state have at least one box, while major cities like Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Stamford and Waterbury received four boxes each. Stratford had two boxes in front of Town Hall – easy and convenient!

Ken Lesser, a long-time public official in Central Connecticut region, on the Wethersfield Board of Education and has served on the both the Town Councils and the Board of Education in Wethersfield and Newington, in a recent opinion piece in the CT Mirror, called for a three-part plan in the areas of voter registration, early voting and state positioning to our citizen’s participation in the democratic process.

“First, we should pass “opt-out” automatic voter registration (AVR) right away. Currently 16 states and the District of Columbia have approved this policy, meaning over one third of Americans now live in a jurisdiction that has either passed or implemented “opt-out” AVR.” Massachusetts passed AVR in 2018 and it went into effect this January 1. It’s time for us follow their lead and make it easier for people to register. Second, we need to enable and allow early voting processes to become law in Connecticut.”

According to Lesser, since Connecticut’s original DMV voter registration program started in 2016, more than 400,000 new Connecticut voters have used the DMV to register, and more than 550,000 voters have made changes to their registrations. Thanks to Gov. Lamont and the leadership at the Connecticut DMV, who are making our DMV registration processes more customer friendly, automated and streamlined, we could quickly integrate an “opt-out” AVR system into their system and benefit from their technological successes.

Currently 39 states and the District of Columbia allow for early voting. Two more states will provide this option in the coming years. What are we waiting for in Connecticut? We need to make it easier for our citizens to exercise their right to vote and we can accomplish this by quickly passing SJR No. 15 this session. We are behind the times, and we should enact this commonsense reform to allow more opportunity to vote.”

Lesser also suggested that CT move the date of our presidential primaries up to make us the first-in-the-nation to hold both Republican and Democrat presidential primaries. Currently, our presidential primary is held on April 28, missing much attention from the candidates and the nation. “This year, most of the original candidates will have been eliminated by the time our contest comes up. If we make Connecticut the first-in-the-nation on the calendar, we will have more impact in picking the president and bring significant economic benefit to our state.”

“A recent study investigated this question by using a Census Bureau statistical tool called “nearest neighbor analysis” and targeted a broad cross-section of 28 different variables. They found that Illinois and Connecticut are the two state’s most like the U.S, with both having similar proportions of whites, blacks, and Hispanics compared to the nation at large and also demographically similar in terms of median age, median household income, education levels, manufacturing jobs, its share of renters and typical home values.

Unlike Illinois, Connecticut is smaller and manageable enough, both in terms of population and geographic area, to allow for the emphasis on retail campaigning that’s such a big part of the Iowa and New Hampshire traditions. When you add up all the data across all categories, they found that Connecticut is the most accurate and most representative of our nation, with a high level of demographic averageness to the nation and U.S. as a whole, making us the logical choice to be the first-in-the-nation in 2024 and going forward!” (Source Ken Lesser)

I fully support and back the efforts of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and leaders of the state legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee to update our statutes and improve our currently voter registration processes this session. If you agree reach out to your State Senator and Representatives and let them know!

Joseph.Gresko@cga.ct.gov
Ben.McGorty@housegop.ct.gov
phil.young@cga.ct.gov
dennis.bradley@cga.ct.gov
Kevin.Kelly@cga.ct.gov