A proposal to amend the state's constitution to allow no-excuse absentee ballot voting in elections is admirable in its effort to increase voter participation but overlooks the extra cost to municipalities, the increased chance of fraud and disenfranchisement.
The Connecticut Town Clerks Association has a long history of supporting efforts by the General Assembly and the secretary of the state to increase voter participation, however, it cannot support the adoption of no-excuse absentee balloting. At a minimum, before rushing headlong into amending the constitution to allow absentee voting by anyone, state officials should do thorough research, develop a strategic plan and list solid reasons for taking this unusual step. Any measure considered by the legislature should be done in a manner that upholds the integrity of the voting process.
Our association has done extensive research on no-excuse absentee voting as well as early voting. These two options should be distinguished from one another. Each provides the voter with the opportunity to vote prior to Election Day but they have different processes, methods and costs associated with their implementation.
Research from other states has shown that when offered no-excuse absentee ballot voting, the volume of people using this method has doubled or tripled. But it is important to note that in these states overall voter turnout has not increased.
Further, our current system for processing absentee ballots could not handle the increase in volume under a no-excuse system. The no-excuse option would quickly strain an outdated, inefficient and manual process for mailing, accounting for and counting of absentee ballots. A no-excuse option for voting will have a significant effect on our municipal budgets as an unfunded mandate.
A significant concern among town clerks and the state Elections Enforcement Commission is the potential for voter fraud in this highly manual process. The current system does not provide for the security and storage of a large number of ballots within the town clerks' vaults. Also, with higher volumes, there is greater opportunity for counting errors.
Under a no-excuse system there is no way to guarantee the applicant is voting the ballot. The absentee voting system already has been the focus of forgery, coercion, bribery and multiple-voting complaints. In contrast, at an early voting polling site, which opens prior to Election Day, individuals would need to produce identification before getting a ballot.
Furthermore, clerks are concerned that an increased number of voters would be disenfranchised under a no-excuse absentee ballot system. Already many absentee votes are disqualified and not counted because voters fail to sign the envelopes, mail them back too late or mismark their ballots. During the 2008 election in Missouri, 8,000 absentee ballots were not counted for these reasons. Those ballots could have changed the outcome of the election. At an early voting polling site, these voters would have been given another chance to vote their ballots correctly and not be disenfranchised.
States that have chosen to use no-excuse absentee voting typically have county forms of government and have centralized voting centers where the process is administered by election officials whose sole purpose is to run the election. In states such as Colorado and Florida, voters might have to travel great distances to vote, and the no-excuse ballot provides a convenience factor for them. Across Connecticut, we have a polling place every few miles.
No-excuse voting would also change the election season for candidates if residents were allowed to vote up to 30-days prior to Election Day, causing campaigns to start much earlier. Voters could be casting votes before they have all the information necessary to make an informed decision.
Although the Town Clerks Association does not support the concept of no-excuse balloting, we recognize the interest and need to offer voting alternatives that can address turnout, while maintaining voting integrity. We welcome the opportunity to be part of this discussion and look forward to a solution that will benefit all our constituents.
Joseph V. Camposeo is the town clerk of Manchester and president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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