Better Access To Voting Within Reach In CT (Annotated)

Courant Editorial, Sunday November 20th: Better Access To Voting Within Reach In CT  <read>

We have long had concerns with extending mail-in voting, aka no excuse absentee voting.  We also support in-person early voting, if we are willing to pay for it.  We have a new Courant Editorial joining Denise Merrill in a renewed push for early voting, defeated two years ago by the voters of Connecticut, consistent with our warnings but not our prediction.  [Annotations in Brackets]

Connecticut is one of only a handful of states that does not allow in-person voting before Election Day and requires those casting absentee ballots to provide an excuse — two unnecessary and antiquated barriers to participation in the political process. [Unnecessary only for those who lack concern for election integrity, turnout, and costs]

But Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has a smart, two-pronged plan that would make it easier to cast a ballot and give more people access to the workings of democracy.

A record number of Connecticut residents were registered to vote in this year’s presidential election, but only about three-quarters of them actually cast a ballot. Procrastination, apathy and disgust certainly kept many people at home. For others, though, there can be no doubt that the inconvenience of voting was the primary factor. [Note that we also enhanced our motor-voter system and thus registered many with no intention to vote, so that could also account for some of the difference, as we predicted.]

Consider a person who commutes to work in New York City every day. She had to get on the train in West Haven at 6:47 a.m. and wouldn’t get back until after 8 p.m. Perhaps she tried to vote at 6 a.m. when the polls opened, but the line was long, and she had a train to catch. So she didn’t vote. [Checking the Metro-North schedule, she is actually eligible to vote absentee if she left town on the 5:51am or could arrive at her polling place to vote at 6:00am, then she would likely still make the 6:47am or catch the next trains at 6:53am or 7:13am, actually the 6:53am would get her in to Grand Central 10 minutes earlier than the 6:47am!  In any case, she could vote with just a little effort.]

If Connecticut allowed early voting, she would have had more days to vote and lines would have been shorter [Not necessarily, since early voting might itself have very long lines, or to pay for early voting towns could scrimp on both staffing election day and early voting.  Some states with early voting have long lines.], or she could have rearranged her schedule [Yes, she could rearrange her schedule with no change in CT law]. Or she could have cast an absentee ballot, if Connecticut didn’t have such strict laws regarding who can take advantage of that simple solution. [Or as we said left on an earlier or later train.]

Ms. Merrill’s plan addresses both situations by recommending a simple change to the absentee ballot law and a constitutional amendment to allow early voting. [Depending on if the “simple” change allows regional voting. See the Courant’s version of early voting below.]

The legislature should make both of those options happen in the coming session. [Which they cannot because the voters must approve Constitutional Amendments.]

Ms. Merrill proposes amending the state constitution to explicitly allow in-person early voting for two to five days within two weeks before the election and to allow anyone to vote absentee without having to meet specific conditions. [That might pass.  Last time, the Constitutional Amendment gave the General Assembly a blank check to do anything with early voting.] To get on the ballot, it would have to be approved by 75 percent of the legislature during the coming session. Those simple changes would clear away the most onerous legal barriers. [75% would be an almost impossible hurdle.  The previous amendment took the path of a majority of two General Assembly’s to pass.  So, by our understanding the next time such an amendment could be on the ballot is 2020.]

The second prong is to simply amend the law that describes who is eligible to vote absentee. Under current law, one of the acceptable “excuses” for voting absentee is that the voter is out of town all day. Ms. Merrill’s proposal would remove seven words — “during all of the hours of voting” — from the law, thereby making the hypothetical commuter eligible to vote absentee. Another smart, and simple, change. [Hard to justify given the debate on the previous amendment that a Constitutional change was necessary for unlimited absentee voting.]

The drawbacks are few. There could be increased costs to towns to keep polls open and staffed for those extra days, but ensuring everyone can exercise their most fundamental American right must be the top priority, if not the basic responsibility, of every municipality. The few dollars it might cost are not worth quibbling over. [Maybe not, yet there are not that many polling places with long lines in Connecticut. That problem can be solved with one or two additional individuals manning check-in lines at polling places that had lines this year. Adding the equivalent one-half person for each polling place would cost about $80,000.  Staffing a polling place with only one line in 169 municipalities for one day would cost about $270,000, just for the polling place staff. Lines and the requirement for more checkers would occur once every four years, while early voting would presumably be required for every election, primary, and referendum.]

Ms. Merrill’s proposed constitutional amendment also would allow early voting to be done regionally — for example, the city of Hartford could allow early voting only at city hall instead of staffing all of the individual polling places across the city for five days. It might be more difficult for someone in the city to make it to city hall than to their own polling location, but given enough time to vote, along with easy no-excuse absentee voting, residents will have more opportunity to cast a ballot. [The Constitutional Amendment gets longer here, and voting in a region, not just one city gets complex, unless the entire election function is regionalized (which we do support).]

Some politicians might be inclined to consider whether early voting would benefit one party over the other by expanding access to specific demographic groups, such as commuters or urban residents. But there isn’t strong evidence that early voting has any such effect, and in any event, it’s far better for politicians to try to convince voters that their platform is the right one than to try to win an election by excluding, or including, certain demographic groups. [And turnout could be increased by better and more candidates.  We could enhance turnout and interest by leveling the playing field for third-party and petitioning candidates – a move unlikely to please either major party.]

There is one, and only one, good reason to allow people to vote before Elenntion Day: because it allows, and encourages, more people to vote. [Actually it does not. Studies have shown that Early Voting actually decreases turnout.]

Reminder: We would support in-person Early Voting, if we are willing to pay for it. i.e. provide for a complete voting experience along with integrity of the process, especially providing effective protection from ballot skullduggery.

An example of the problem of long lines. It will not be fixed by early voting. It will be fixed by competence: New Haven Independent:  Probe Sought of [New Haven] Election Mess <read>


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