Secretary Merrill Testifies in Support of Early Voting, Restoring Voting Rights to People on Parole
“These proposals continue Connecticut’s proud tradition of expanding the right to vote”HARTFORD – Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill testified today in front of the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee in support of her proposal for Early Voting and in support of restoring voting rights for people on parole.
“These proposals continue Connecticut’s proud tradition of expanding the right to vote,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. “Early Voting is an idea whose time has come in Connecticut. 37 states currently allow their citizens to vote in person prior to election day and more than a third of the voters – more than 46 million people – took the opportunity to vote early in 2016. Early Voting will make it easier for Connecticut citizens to exercise their most fundamental right.”
“Restoring voting rights to people on parole will reduce the confusion about when people are able to vote after a period of incarceration, and will help reintegrate them into Connecticut’s civic life.”
Secretary Merrill’s testimony on these proposals is included below:
Good morning Chairman Fox, Chairmen Flexer and McLachlan, Vice Chairs Frantz, Slossberg, and Winkler, Ranking Member Devlin and members of the committee. My name is Denise Merrill and I am the Secretary of the State of Connecticut. I would like to address a number of bills before the committee.
I will start with the resolutions that have been offered to expand early voting opportunities for Connecticut voters. I offered this proposal because it will make it easier for Connecticut citizens to exercise their right to vote.
• H.J. No. 28, RESOLUTION PROPOSING A STATE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO PERMIT EARLY VOTING
• S.J. No. 31, RESOLUTION PROPOSING A STATE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO ALLOW EARLY VOTING
These resolutions would bring Connecticut in line with the majority of states by giving more flexibility to voters as to when they could cast a ballot. 37 states currently allow their voters to vote in person prior to Election Day. More than one-third of voters – more than 46 million people nationwide – voted early in 2016! This is a common sense reform that has wide support across the country among members of all demographic groups and political parties.
Over the past three Presidential elections, thanks to election modernizations that we worked on together, Connecticut voters came out to vote in increasingly large numbers, culminating in a record number of people registering and voting on Election Day 2016. Although this is exactly the outcome we want in a healthy democracy, the downside was that all three elections had reports of long lines at polling places and Election Day Registration centers, putting intense pressure on our hardworking elections officials. More than 1.5 million people voted on Election Day in Connecticut in 2016 (not including absentee ballots).
Giving voters the opportunity to vote early in Connecticut would eliminate the pressures we still experience on Election Day. Many of the lines and delays we experienced in 2016 would have been eased by giving voters the flexibility to cast their ballots in advance, evidenced by the growth in early voting nationwide from about a tenth voters in the 1990s to more than one-third today. Numerous people called and e-mailed our office both leading up to every Election Day and after asking a simple question: “Why not us?”
Unfortunately, as many of you on this Committee know, not as simple a question as it sounds.
Like a few states in New England, and basically nowhere else in the country, the Connecticut Constitution requires that voters appear in person on Election Day. That is why I am here today supporting a constitutional amendment rather than simple legislation. In order for this amendment to go to the voters for their approval on Election Day in 2020, it would have to pass both chambers with a simple majority this year, and again after the new General Assembly is sworn in in 2019.
One question I will address up front is the potential cost associated with early voting. The answer is there may be an additional cost, although there is likely a corresponding decrease in the cost of Election Day itself. We can also manage any cost by limiting the number of early voting locations to highly accessible sites that are open anyway, like libraries or town halls, and see some balance overall, as other states have done.
This proposal would also limit early voting days to between three and five days within two weeks of Election Day, to be determined by the legislature after the amendment passes. Perhaps the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Election Day would make sense to ensure that voters have choices that won’t conflict with religious observances.
Early voting will help people exercise their most fundamental right; in my view that is money well spent.
Continuing in the same vein, another reform that would expand the franchise would be to allow people to vote once they are no longer incarcerated.
• H.B. No. 5418, AN ACT RESTORING ELECTORAL PRIVILEGES TO FELONY CONVICTS WHO ARE ON PAROLE
Currently, Connecticut law allows people on probation to once again exercise their right to vote, but not people on parole. This bill would simply allow people on parole to also exercise their right to vote, joining the 16 states and the District of Columbia who already allow people to vote while they are on parole, including all of our fellow New England states.
The real problem we often face when we try to get every eligible voter to register and every registered voter to vote, is in getting people to know at what point in the process of leaving the criminal justice system they get their right to vote back. In addition to continuing our proud Connecticut tradition of expanding the right to vote, this bill would remove the confusion over parole versus probation and simplify the restoration of voting rights to the physical release from prison.
I support this bill.