Democrats looking to keep COVID-19 voting rules for November election

Hartford Courant/TNS

Democratic lawmakers are seeking to keep COVID-19 voting rules in place for the November election.

Senate Bill 184 would allow voters to obtain an absentee ballot by citing the pandemic as a reason that they cannot go to the polls in person. Such a rule was first enacted prior to the 2020 election in response to the coronavirus crisis.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, and we simply don’t know when another variant will emerge, how fast it will spread, how severe it will be, or when it will peak,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill told members of the legislature’s government administration and elections committee Friday.

“Voters voting in this fall’s elections should be allowed to choose to vote by absentee ballot if they desire and should not be forced into a potential choice between their health and their right to vote," Merrill said.

But during a lengthy hearing on the bill Friday, some Republicans expressed opposition to the measure. Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, said she views the bill as an end-run around the state Constitution, which stipulates absentee ballots can only be obtained under certain conditions. (A constitutional amendment to allow for no-excuse absentee ballots could come before the voters in 2024.)

“We are just kind of creating no-excuse absentee ballot[s]," Mastrofrancesco said.

Friday’s public hearing drew dozens of people, many of whom waiting on Zoom for hours to speak about the proposal.

“We all want to put COVID behind us and get back to normal," said Aaron Goode, a member of the New Haven Votes coalition. “But we don’t know if or when there will be another variant that’s going to upend our plans. For many Connecticut residents who are immunocompromised, there is no new normal and there won’t be. SB 184 is a way of showing you care about our brothers and sisters who are in those high risk groups and it’s a contingency plan for the rest of us."

Opponents of the measure said they are worried that an increase in absentee balloting could lead to voter fraud, despite offering no proof. “The Covid 19 pandemic is clearly over by public health data, and hospitalization rates," Linda Dalessio, a nurse practitioner from Wolcott, told the committee. “Connecticut does not have specific checks and balances in place that would protect against voter fraud.”

The committee is expected to vote on the measure later this month.