Changes in how Connecticut votes may be on the way — and that will be a good thing if it means new rules, such as authorizing early voting, that give busy people more opportunity to vote, boosting turnout and reinvigorating democracy.
But an attempt to establish an early-voting pilot program for municipal elections in a few towns this fall might be premature.
The state Senate last week by a vote of 22-14 took the last step needed to place on the 2014 statewide ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would permit the General Assembly to make new rules for voting if it so chooses — changes that are offered to voters in more than 30 other states.
The House passed the constitutional amendment resolution last month.
Changes that might be in the offing could include early voting in all its manifestations: no-excuse absentee voting, voting before Election Day at the precinct or a voting center, voting by mail and so forth.
As it stands now, the Connecticut Constitution forbids early voting in statewide elections except for voters casting absentee ballots under very strict circumstances such as illness, infirmity, religious proscriptions or being absent from the state on Election Day. This narrow early-voting rule could be scrapped by the legislature if the constitutional amendment is approved by voters.
As for the early-voting pilot program in this year's municipal elections being pushed by three New Haven representatives: Lawmakers need to ask state Attorney General George Jepsen for an opinion on its legality.
The state constitution doesn't speak specifically to the question of voting early in municipal elections. Neither did then-Attorney General Richard Blumenthal specifically address local elections in a 2009 informal opinion to lawmakers saying a constitutional amendment would be required to permit no-excuse absentee voting in Connecticut.
The pilot might pass constitutional muster — or it might not.
Early voting will spur turnout in elections for local office. Far too few voters go to the polls to choose mayors, selectmen and members of boards of education and finance. Low turnout drains the life from municipal government, the level of government closest to the people.
But let's get the constitutionality issue cleared up before implementing such an obvious remedy early.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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