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Voting rights expansion dies in Connecticut statehouse

In the closing hours if its annual session, the Connecticut legislature killed multifaceted legislation designed to expand voting access.

A threatened Republican filibuster in the state Senate effectively ran out the clock on the bill Wednesday, a week after it passed the state House. It would have restored voting rights to parolees and incarcerated persons in halfway houses, expanded the number of sites permitting registration on Election Day, permitted electronic signatures on some election-related documents and instituted a system for automatically registering voters when they do business with the motor vehicle agency.

Senate GOP leader Len Fasano said his caucus was wary of expanding the DMV's ability to register voters and unified in opposing parolees' right to cast a ballot.

The Democratic majority attempted to make the bill more palatable to Republicans by dropping language that would have permitted registration and voting by people in line when the polls close on Election Day. Hundreds of would-be new voters were turned away in New Haven when nightfall came on Nov. 6.

No early voting in Connecticut anytime soon

A measure to bring early voting to Connecticut, one of just 11 states where the balloting only occurs on Election Day, came up four votes short in the state Senate.

The proposal would have asked the voters next year to approve a state constitutional amendment to permit early voting, with the legislature deciding the details after that. Now, the earliest proponents will be able to try again is in two years, to get a measure on the ballot in 2022 that might lead to early voting two presidential elections from now.

Early voting has consistently boosted turnout because it helps the physically disabled, parents without child care and workers with unpredictable schedules get to the polls.

Conservatives opposing drive for early voting in Connecticut

Prominent conservatives in Hartford are lobbying state Senate Republicans to abandon legislation making Connecticut the 40th state with at least some early voting, which has boosted turnout in almost every place it's been instituted.

"Once you get away from the idea that there's an Election Day, then you get on a constant slippery slope," former Sen. Joe Markley, the GOP nominee last year for lieutenant governor, told the Hartford Courant.

The state House overwhelmingly approved an early voting measure this year, but it won't pass unless five of 14 Republicans in the Senate join the 22 Democrats to form a two-thirds majority. If that happens, voters statewide would have the final say in a 2020 referendum.

Democrats originally proposed just three days of advance balloting, but in a compromise with the GOP the current measure would only authorize state legislators to set the specifics once the public backs concept.

Prospects for the bill, which failed four years ago, seem to have been improved by Election Day chaos last year in New Haven, where a surge in last-minute registrations led to long lines at the polls.

"When voting becomes a hassle, the democratic process falls by the wayside," said Democratic Sen. Will Haskell, at 22 the youngest member of the legislature. "The right to vote means nothing without the opportunity to vote."

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