HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – Making it safer and easier for people to vote was the topic at the Capitol Friday. Two bills being considered by lawmakers focus on absentee ballots.

Right now, if there was an election you could not get an absentee ballot because you were sick with COVID-19. That excuse was sunsetted last year.

If these bills get passed, COVID-19 will be allowed to count as an excusable illness through this November’s mid-term election. The right to vote and access to the ballot box is something Americans cherish.

“Whether it’s the quiet corner, the upper northwestern corner of our state, all the way down to New London and all the way over to Stamford, it’s so critical that the people of the state really engage in their democracy,” Steven Hernandez, the executive director of the Connecticut Women and Children Seniors Equity and Opportunity explained.

Engaging in that democracy was made easier during the pandemic. The Secretary of the State mailed absentee ballot applications to every eligible voter. Fear of COVID was the driving force.

Secretary of the State Denise Merill the Democratic Secretary of the State said people were calling the office concerned.

“People were frantic about getting to the polls,” Merrill said.

In that 2020 presidential election, 659,000 voters cast an absentee ballot. Compare that to the 2016 presidential election where only 126,000 used absentee ballot voting.

Lawmakers will decide whether to pass a bill allowing COVID-19 as an excuse to get an absentee ballot through the mid-term November election. Another bill conforms language to mirror what is in the state Constitution, allowing access for “sickness.”

Callie Heilmann from Bridgeport told lawmakers she supports the bills.

“No voter should have to choose between their safety and the safety of their loved ones for the freedom to vote,” Heilmann said.

Lauren Vernaglia from Bristol testified she felt differently.

“I’m in opposition of the bills,” Vernaglia said. “I’m not saying that I don’t think people should have access to voting. I’m saying there needs to be checks and balances.”

Republicans are open to more access but also want assurances. State Sen. Rob Sampson, a Republican from the 16th District, told Secretary of the State, “We are in agreement about providing access, my concern is security.”

Meantime, State Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco a Republican from the 80th district asked Merrill, “What in your mind is a safe way to secure our election?” Secretary Merrill answered, “The best way to do this is just to compare the roll.”

Voter names and eligibility are kept in every town’s Registrar of Voters database, or roll. During the pandemic, many changes were made to elections. Ballot boxes were installed, blind voters gained more accessibility to voting through technology, and lawmakers passed a measure to allow a question on the ballot this November concerning early voting.

“We see people trying to roll back voting rights all over the country. Stand up against that,” said Governor Ned Lamont on a forum with the Connecticut Women and Children Seniors Equity and Opportunity group.
Another issue discussed pre-filled applications.

News 8 covered reports of absentee ballot applications mailed all over the state by political party consultants having ” illegal” signatures.

The state elections enforcement office is currently reviewing those complaints.