If access to the ballot box is worth fighting for, it has never faced a battle like this.

In Iowa, someone returning an absentee ballot for a friend with a disability could face a stiff fine. In Arizona, a new law will purge voters from the list of people who automatically get mail-in ballots unless they vote every two years. In Georgia, providing food or water to people waiting in line to vote could land you in jail for a year.

Advocates for expanded access to the franchise have raised the alarm about these attempts to limit absentee, early and mail-in voting—largely coordinated by Republicans convinced that the presidential election was stolen. But amidst the largest push to roll back voting rights in decades, one state is poised to actually expand access to the franchise: Connecticut.

“It’s fascinating to us when we look around the country—we’re sort of shocked by what’s going on,” said Denise Merrill, the Connecticut secretary of state and a major proponent of a ballot initiative that would allow the state to create an option for early voting. “It just seems like we’re in a different country than a lot of these other places!”

Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

The amendment, which Connecticut residents will vote on this November, would allow the state legislature to pass a law to institute in-person early voting. Connecticut is currently one of only six states that don’t allow early voting either in-person or via mail-in ballot, and absentee voting is strictly limited to people who are physically unable to vote on Election Day either due to disability or absence from their city.

“There’s this feeling that a constitution is sacrosanct and should not be amended, despite the fact that the voting provisions have, in fact, been amended in our constitution many times, going as far back as the Civil War,” said state Rep. Stephanie Thomas, who represents a slice of Fairfield County.

To Thomas, a prominent supporter of the amendment, the restrictions are a major barrier to access to the ballot box, whether someone is infirm, overworked or are otherwise waylaid on Election Day. She listed off the various structural barriers that prevent many Connecticut residents from voting on the day of an election, from caregivers who wake up with a sick child to commuters stuck on the evening train back from the city.

Thomas, who participated in public hearings where voters spoke out on the issue, cited a personal favorite story from testimony involving a recent transplant from Texas who attempted to vote early only to be told that Connecticut, unlike Texas, didn’t have it.

“They were flabbergasted,” Thomas said. “She said, ‘I could not believe that something that we enjoy in Texas and have enjoyed for quite some time is against the law here in Connecticut.’”

A review of voter initiatives around the country by The Daily Beast found that of the dozens that relate to voting, only one that has made the ballot—Connecticut’s proposed constitutional amendment that would let the state legislature create an early-voting system—would actually make voting easier.

Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Connecticut’s proposed constitutional amendment is the closest to facing voters, but is far from the only move by voters, legislators and officials to stem the tide of voter restrictions. There are nearly 50 proposed ballot initiatives that would affect voting currently in process that have been reviewed by The Daily Beast, and while most are fashioned as attempts to restrict access to the ballot box—requiring notarization for mail-in voting in Arizona, voter identification requirements to vote absentee in Maine, a Missouri measure that would allow the state legislature to void votes for president—others could present further opportunities to make voting easier, faster and more convenient.

In Florida, a ballot initiative is in progress that would prevent debt from preventing former felons from regaining their right to vote; in California, tech-minded politicos are pushing a measure that would allow for voting-by-internet.

But Connecticut’s is, so far, the only measure to officially qualify for the ballot.

“We’re just trying to make sure that every eligible citizen gets registered to vote and is able to vote easily,” said Merrill. “The biggest problem we’ve had in these last couple of presidential elections, in particular, are long lines—nothing does more to suppress the vote than long lines to vote.”

Despite the focus on swing states that have worked to roll back pandemic-era absentee ballot measures, Connecticut is actually one of the hardest places to vote in the United States. One of only six states that doesn’t allow either early or absentee voting—the result of a quirk in the state’s constitution that makes changes to the voting process incredibly onerous—state legislators have been working for the better part of a decade to expand voter access.

Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

“We do have a right to vote that’s constitutionally guaranteed, but the state constitution prevents early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, reducing the ability of a lot of eligible voters to vote,” said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of Common Cause, a nonprofit watchdog group that works to promote equal access to government and the vote. “This is really an opportunity for the state to extend that opportunity for more people to actually be able to vote—it is really about securing our democracy.”

If approved, Quickmire said, the constitutional amendment will “allow that to happen.”

Changing the state’s constitution is a massive undertaking, with any proposed amendment having to take one of two circuitous routes to ratification. The “fast track” requires a proposed amendment to pass with three-quarters of the vote in both chambers of the state legislature, which then places it on the next statewide ballot for voter approval, sometimes two years away. The other route—the one that Connecticut’s early voting amendment has been on since 2019—requires only a regular majority in both chambers, but with the requirement that the same proposed amendment has to be passed again after the next legislature is seated.

That process can take half a decade, depending on the electoral calendar, which explains why Connecticut is so far behind on early voting than almost every other state.

“They don’t call us the Land of Steady Habits for nothing,” said Merrill, invoking the Nutmeg State’s informal nickname and reputation for political stability and small-C conservatism. “Change is hard in Connecticut, and especially as embodied in the state constitution.”

The amendment is actually Connecticut’s second attempt at ratifying an expansion of voting access. In 2014, a proposition made it onto the ballot that would have allowed the state to enact both early and no-excuse absentee voting—but the language of the amendment itself was so hopelessly confusing that even Thomas, the state representative, chose to leave it blank rather than vote for something with multiple double-negatives in the text.

“I could not fathom what it meant—it sounded like your vote wouldn’t be verified by any means,” Thomas said. “I didn’t get it, so I left it blank, like a lot of other people.”

This time, supporters are confident that the amendment will pass and that the Connecticut state legislature will act quickly to create a framework that will allow Nutmeggers to vote early.

“The pressure will be on,” said Merrill, even in the context of broader pushes by Republicans nationwide to restrict early voting. “Early voting, I think, is a slam dunk.”

As Thomas quipped: “The same society that will pay more for pre-cubed watermelon doesn’t want their voting to just fall within a 14-hour period.”

Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

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