Monte Frank says he is confident that Connecticut will emerge from “the back waters” and clear the constitutional hurdle to make early voting and no excuse absentee ballots permanent.
“I think we have the votes,” said Frank of Newtown – who ran on an independent ticket for lieutenant governor in 2018 and now chairs the Connecticut Task Force for the Serve America Movement (SAM), which promotes election reforms and bipartisan problem solving. SAM endorsed candidates in the respective municipal and state elections in 2019 and 2020.
CT Mirror has reported that Connecticut is one of only three states that currently ban early voting through their constitutions.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill (D-Hartford) ambitiously sought those provisions in 2019, noting that 39 states and the District of Columbia already had them. She was rebuffed by the state Senate in a 23-13 vote that fell short of the 75 percent threshold needed to put in on the ballot in 2020. The House had reached a supermajority with a 125-24 vote.
Some Republican senators expressed concern about potential voter fraud and questioned why the changes were needed since Connecticut already had absentee ballots for voters who had a reasonable excuse for not being able to vote on Election Day as well as same-day voter registration.
But Frank indicated in a recent Hartford Courant column that the success of the early voting and no excuse absentee ballot provisions in 2020 during the pandemic has generated further support.
“The flames of opposition to mail-in ballots were vigorously fanned during the 2020 presidential campaign, but allegations about widespread fraud turned out to be unfounded. To the contrary, mail-in ballots succeeded in increasing participation in our democracy,” wrote Frank, who was on a ticket headed by the late Oz Griebel of Hartford that garnered almost four percent of the vote in the 2018 gubernatorial balloting.
In a news release, Merrill stated. “The availability of absentee ballots allowed more than 650,000 people to safely and conveniently cast their ballots, and helped to drive what will ultimately be among the highest turnout elections in Connecticut history. This election proved that, even under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, allowing Connecticut voters to choose to vote by absentee ballot can be a success, and voters are telling us that they want that option.”
Frank said in a phone interview with Patch.com that, “I fully expect that it will pass” during the 2021 session and then be put on the ballot for final consideration by voters in the November 2022 gubernatorial election. If approved, the election reforms would become functional in the 2024 elections.
State Rep. Stephen Harding (R-107) of Brookfield stated in an e-mail message to Patch.com that, “Many in our State, including myself, believe that it worked very effectively and efficiently here” in 2020.
“I do believe it is possible that these issues could pass with a 75 percent majority in this upcoming session,” he added. “I think there is broad support for both of these initiatives.”
CT Mirror reported that an earlier version of early voting went to referendum in November 2014 and was defeated 491,447 to 453,070. The online niche journalism web site has stated that the defeat has been at least partly blamed on a poorly-worded amendment on voter restrictions to absentee ballots and less emphasis on early voting.
Merrill told Patch.com last year that early voting would also “take pressure off” the town clerks and voter registrars, because all of the voting will not be done on one day.
However, The Day of New London reported in November that some municipal officials believe that the election system will need an overhaul if early voting and no excuse absentee ballots become permanent. They said that money would have to be spent on equipment, including tabulators.
Frank said, “That is worth the investment if you are going to have greater participation.”
Former Democratic presidential candidate John Delaney of Maryland has said that Election Day should be a federal holiday so that people would have ample time to vote.
Remarked Frank, “It should be a federal holiday,” he exclaimed. “It is that important. You should not have to take a day off from work to vote.”
Frank, an attorney who has been president of both the New England and the Connecticut bar associations, said he also supports Merrill’s proposal to have pre-voting registration for 16 years old in which they could sign up and then the registration would take effect.
CTNewsJunkie has reported that 13 states and the District of Columbia allow 16 year olds to pre-register.
Regarding other election reforms, Frank said that SAM supports open primaries in which unaffiliated voters could participate. The No Labels organization has noted that all voters, including those who are unaffiliated, pay for the costs associated with primaries.
Merrill told Patch.com in 2019 that the political parties have the power to hold open primaries without seeking constitutional authority. However, after briefly opening their primaries about 35 years ago, Republicans returned to a closed system and the Democrats have had closed primaries throughout history.
Frank said, for example, that financial executive Bob Stefanowski of Madison captured the five-way Republican gubernatorial primary in 2018 with about 29 percent of the vote totaling just 42,000 ballots.
“It was not representative of the Republican Party,” Frank said.
Patch.com reported in 2019 that Griebel, the former president of the MetroHartford Alliance, said that “It is a vertical vision right now with just the registered party members in the primaries, because the Republicans play to their base and the Democrats do that same and there is very little effort to appeal to the political center, where more voters tend to be.”
SAM endorses ranked-choice voting in all publicly financed primary and general elections.
The Committee For Ranked Choice Voting has stated that it “ensures that candidates with the most votes and broadest support win, so voters get what they want.” Supporters believe that a greater number of moderate candidates will be nominated and the contenders usually focus more on issues, in part, because they fear that personal attacks on a particular opponent could hurt their chances of being placed at least second on many of the ranked choice ballots.
CNN has stated that “it lets voters literally rank their choices in order of preference, marking candidates as their first, second and third choice picks (and so on). The winner must have a majority (more than 50 percent of the votes) rather than a plurality (simply the most votes).”
According to Ballotpedia, “If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots”
However, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and former California Gov. Jerry Brown have vetoed ranked choice voting because they believed that voters would find it confusing.
Frank said that SAM also supports term limits for the state’s six constitutional officials – the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, comptroller, attorney general and secretary of the state.
“You accomplish some objectives and then move on and open the door for new ideas,” said Frank, who is the leader of Team 26, the cyclists who have ridden from Newtown to Washington, D.C. to promote gun violence protection following the shootings in 2012 at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
He said he disagrees with critics have warned that term limits would abolish the institutional memory that some elected officials can deliver by being able to put proposals into context as a result of their familiarity with issues over the course of time.
In 2015 former Democratic President Barack Obama endorsed mandatory voting, which, according to USA Today, occurs in at least 25 countries, including Australia, which has had it for almost a century.
USA Today has reported that if a voter doesn’t participate in Australia they receive a letter in the mail and can be exempt from the $25 fine for almost any reason. The money from the fines are used to administer the mandatory voting program. Australia usually has at least a 90 percent turnout for its national elections.
Frank said that SAM doesn’t have a position on mandatory voting, but he personally opposes it.
“Voting is a privilege and a right, not a requirement,” he explained. “If we fix our democracy around shared values, and create real electoral completion, voter participation will increase voluntarily.”