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OP-ED | Holding My Nose To Vote For Q1

by | Oct 24, 2014 5:30am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Election 2014, Election Policy, Opinion

When Connecticut voters walk into their polling places on Nov. 4, they’ll experience an uncommon occurrence: they’ll be voting for more than just candidates for office. For reasons that will be explored later in this column, these sorts of ballot questions are unusual in our state. And this one will be notable for its tautological quality: voters will be voting about . . . voting.

Question 1, perhaps inaptly named since it will be the only one on the ballot, will ask voters to amend the state constitution to allow the General Assembly “to remove restrictions concerning absentee ballots and to permit a person to vote without appearing at a polling place on the day of an election?”

Currently, voters must have a darned good excuse to obtain an absentee ballot. They must be sick on election day, traveling out of range of their hometown, serving in the military or have religious obligations. The amendment would also allow the General Assembly to institute so-called early voting, whereby ballots can be filed days or even weeks before an election.

On the one hand, such a change seems unnecessary. If you’re in town, polls in Connecticut are open for 14 hours. With that kind of window, it’s hard to believe a voter couldn’t swing by the polling place before or after work. As for the excuses, if you tell a registrar of voters or a town clerk that you’ll be out of town on election day, do they ask to see your plane ticket or a certificate of enrollment from your college? I don’t think so. But removing restrictions on absentee balloting would at least take away the need to lie. Call me old fashioned, but I’m a firm believer that less lying is always a good thing.

The biggest reservation I have about voting yes on Question 1 is that the amendment would turn the reformation of election laws over to the very same politicians who will benefit from it. For an example, one need look no further than how lawmakers carve up legislative districts to benefit the incumbents in their own parties. Look, for example, at Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. The eastern half looks like a donut with a bite taken out of it. We can only imagine what craven lawmakers were thinking when they dreamed up that abomination.

And there is the possibility of mischief in the early voting process, as evidenced by a Republican state representative repeatedly trying to vote early for himself on a touch-screen machine in Schaumburg, Ill., only to have the votes actually register on the screen as Democratic. The Cook County Clerk’s office attributed the lawmaker’s experience to a “calibration error.”

But unfortunately, there’s probably no other way to enact voter reforms than through the legislature because Connecticut’s lack of access to ballot initiatives (more about that in a minute) makes citizen legislation even more problematic. And appointing a blue-ribbon commission to recommend changes to voting laws would be just another way for elected officials to duck responsibility for the finished product.

I’ve also reluctantly concluded that there is little at stake here in terms of principles. Arguments over increasing voter participation inevitably fall along party lines: While few of them will admit it, Democrats think the masses of the unregistered and unmotivated, if prodded to register and vote, would naturally gravitate toward the party of Franklin Roosevelt.

Republicans agree, which is precisely why they are often critical of such efforts. If the shoe were on the other foot, I’m convinced the parties’ positions on ballot access would be reversed. As for the mischief, you could use the possibility of foul play to oppose virtually any new program. That said, I will hold my nose and vote yes on Question 1.

A larger but related question is why we don’t see more ballot initiatives in Connecticut. State law does not provide for referendums and the like. Perhaps it should. Granted, we don’t want to run into a situation such as California’s, where there’s a referendum at every turn and voters continually approve expensive projects and then vote down the tax increases to pay for them.

In Massachusetts, where the newspaper I work for is located, the state has four voter initiatives on the ballot this fall. Some politicians like them because it takes the responsibility for the law away from legislatures, allowing politicians to wash their hands of the ill effects of the legislation and claim credit for letting the people decide. Other lawmakers dislike ballot initiatives for precisely the same reason: they alone want to make the laws the rest of us must live by.

Ballot initiatives can have a positive effect. Granted, we don’t want mob rule or the cognitive dissonance of California. And we won’t get that if the bar to entry is high enough.

So while we in Connecticut are voting on voting, let the General Assembly consider a 2016 ballot initiative allowing . . . ballot initiatives.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

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(17) Archived Comments

posted by: BPTJT141 | October 24, 2014  1:54pm

If I remember correctly, Connecticut has a rule where every 20 years, a provision appears on the ballot asking if a Constitutional Convention should be convened. I think the last time it appeared was in 2008. The measure was voted down in the election because Progressive interests were frightened about opening a “Pandora’s Box” Constitutional Convention.

posted by: shinningstars122 | October 25, 2014  12:00pm


It is baffling how Mr. Cowgil on one hand thinks any voter reform, if promoted by Democrats, is self serving.

But on the other hand would prefer more ballot driven initiatives for Connecticut.

Any member of the electorate could benefit from this ballot question, especially the elderly who make up a good percent of the voting public.

I think it is a good first step and helps begin modernizing our voting process like many other states.

The concerns of wide spread fraud are highly unlikely and should not worry my fellow residents from supporting this measure.

The League of Women Voters supports this measure along with a variety of labor unions.

In 2012 25%, 32 million voters, cast their ballots before election day due to similar laws in other states.

This is not a progressive extreme measure folks it just Connecticut coming into the 21st century.

posted by: shinningstars122 | October 26, 2014  1:00pm


Mr. Cowgill if you have such strong objections to such a simple worded and popular measure I hardly believe that polluting the ballot box each election with numerous special interest driven ballot initiatives will some how give your greater solace.

With the changes to campaign and special interest non-profits funding granted by the SCOTUS it would be the group with the most money who would be able to sway the constantly waving and vulnerable school of public opinion.

As Gore Vidal once said ” We are the United States of Amnesia”

If one wants to undermine a democracy well a special interest ballot question is the quickest, but not the most logical and right way to refine or redefine our republic.

As Thomas Jefferson once said
“I hope we shall… crush in its birth the aristocracy of our
moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our
government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of
our country.”

Careful what you wish for Mr. Cowgill.

posted by: whatsprogressiveaboutprogressives? | October 26, 2014  2:01pm

Dimly lit star, you are correct that it is not a progressive measure. It is an absolute regressive measure.So because LoWV and many unions support it means it’s good for all of us? I tend to think not. And if its so good, then why did many in the demographic you cite engage in voting down the referendum amendment five years ago or so? The same one that will not come up for a vote in about 15 more years? These kinds of issues could have been decided had this been passed. But it didn’t pass because your like had great concern about losing all that you have done or wrecked. Instead now you want to pick a la carte what will be on the ballot dont you?

posted by: Joebigjoe | October 26, 2014  2:36pm

I know three things with regards to voting.

There is a news story out today about a few million illegal immigrant votes around the country that may have determined many elections. We need Voter ID around the country.

Two is that if someone said about me that I have too many issues in my life over the course of years to get an ID to vote, I would be highly insulted.

Early voting is a joke. People have been voting in some states for three weeks already. I would be fine with 3 days of voting but three weeks?

I think we should have referendum. I think when people hear about a major referendum they educate themselves more than they do just voting for people. Just look at California, one of the most liberal states, voting against gay marriage.

posted by: perturbed | October 26, 2014  4:21pm


Joebigjoe wrote:

“There is a news story out today about a few million illegal immigrant votes around the country that may have determined many elections. We need Voter ID around the country.”

@Joebigjoe—Please cite the source of your “news story.” I highly suspect it’s bogus info.


posted by: perturbed | October 26, 2014  4:54pm


Nevermind Joebigjoe. I found it in a Washington Post blog site called The Monkey Cage. Just as I suspected, it’s guesswork:

Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

One thing to note is that your claim of “a few million illegal immigrant votes” is way off. If you do the math, even the 6.4% figure would bring the number clearly within the six-figure range, well short of even one million votes.

Another funny thing is, you want to accept the “guesstimate” (which may well be reasonable) that supports your position, but ignore the data that doesn’t.

“We also find that one of the favorite policies advocated by conservatives to prevent voter fraud appears strikingly ineffective. Nearly three quarters of the non-citizens who indicated they were asked to provide photo identification at the polls claimed to have subsequently voted.”

So, is that enough to get you to re-think your advocacy of voter ID laws? I didn’t think so. That’s OK. The blog entry didn’t convince me that voter fraud is actually a real problem, either.


posted by: DrHunterSThompson | October 26, 2014  10:37pm

Just say no.


posted by: Joebigjoe | October 27, 2014  12:03am

Not bogus. Here you go. A number of news outlets are running it.


posted by: CovLakeWesty | October 27, 2014  10:50am

One correction to the second para - many locations have additional questions on the ballot.  My town has a Question 2.

posted by: MGKW | October 27, 2014  11:12am

Perturbed…thanks for doing the homework…the constant fear of “them” has been an imaginary “bugaboo” for the right ever since post World War II (Communists, Socialists, minorities, fill in the blank)

We don’t need Voter ID—-if needed make it very easy to obtain and not have it cost anything..one should not have to pay to participate in Democracy.

Making it easier to vote…why not? Oregon has mail in and there has been virtually no examples of fraud (New York Times). Videos of states of Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania only scare people from voting which is what JoebJoe seem to be arguing for…Perturbed is right—do your homework.

posted by: GBear423 | October 27, 2014  12:50pm


@ mgkw, everyone needs Identification, its just a societal norm. Funny how in one moment voter fraud is our imagination, and then your agreeing with someone that cited 75% of successful fraudulent voters were asked for a photo ID…

Most States if not all, can issue a State ID Card, right there at the DMV, sadly in CT they charge $22.50… so much for liberal progressivism. Would think they would want to not encumber the poor. At least Rhode Island gives 59 and older a free one.

My Town registrar had about 8 registered voters living at my house, funny as I am the only American citizen over 18 (wife is German).  For all the people who fear bugaboos, check with Registrar to see how many voters are listed at your residence. If you have the time, see if any of the extras decided to vote since you been there.

Re: the Article- Sadly the public is not well informed, something I hold public schools and the media accountable for. Ballot questions will be a shock for the lion’s share of the electorate, they will have no knowledge of the pros and cons, and will simply vote on what “feels” right to them. Ballot initiatives like chivalry, a romantic ideal, lost on this modern era.

posted by: Joebigjoe | October 27, 2014  2:22pm

Let me go on record that people that don’t have licenses or other photo ID’s shouldn’t have to pay to get one.

By the way we judge and make laws abouut gun ownership because of the actions of a few so why shouldnt we treat the right to vote as seriously when its far more than a few violating that part of the Constitution?

posted by: perturbed | October 27, 2014  7:35pm


@Joebigjoe—you seem to be sidestepping the questionable efficacy of using voter IDs to prevent fraud. The Monkey Cage blog entry—the very one you cited—notes that voter IDs would have been effective only about 25% of the time. It would seem hard to devise a less effective solution, without trying.

It goes on to suggest that education might be more effective. Are you willing to consider that measure instead, or are you locked into the voter ID thing, evidence be damned?

Or maybe, like me, you look at the source you cited as one interesting bit of research with uncertain accuracy that we should all be skeptical about?

Is it also possible that you saw the source blog post summarized on a third party website somewhere by an organization that thought it best to withhold part of the information, and maybe take the part they did report out of context?

The source you cited seems to suggest the question of whether “the United States should move to legalize some electoral participation by non-citizens as many other countries do, and as some U.S. states did for more than 100 years, or find policies that more effectively restrict it” should be explored further. Do you agree that legalizing electoral participation by non-citizens is a topic worthy of further discussion?

It’s all here: Could non-citizens decide the November election?

Or are you, by now, ready to denounce the source you originally cited to support your position? Just curious.

(BTW, if I am mistaken about the source of your news story, please just share the true source.)


PS: Just out of curiosity I went to The Monkey Cage to see what kind of stories they carry. Lo and behold, several criticisms have been made of the Jesse Richman and David Earnest blog entry. Read some of them here:

Methodological challenges affect study of non-citizens’ voting 

Yikes! That’s some seriously flawed “research!” Got anything better?

posted by: shinningstars122 | October 29, 2014  6:03am


Mr. Cowgill could you please explain to me, and your readers, why you chose to censor my last post in response to your comments as well a fellow commentator’s?

The post was sincere and was well within the guidelines of the rules of conduct for commenting.

In the spirit of this blog, and I am sure others would agree,if you simply disagreed with my opinions that is one thing but to censor my post is another.

If you do not appreciate or welcome debate on what you write or how you chose to respond to your readers comments that is your loss sir.

posted by: Christine Stuart | October 29, 2014  6:51am

Christine Stuart

Terry has nothing to do with comments on this site. I spiked your comment because it did not follow our commenting guidelines and was a personal attack on my columnist.
Christine Stuart

posted by: shinningstars122 | October 29, 2014  8:47pm


@Christine with all due respect I never attacked Mr. Cowgill personally. I was just critical of the contents of his piece and his logic in supporting Question 1, all this while holding his nose.

I even offered an apology for my error and to this reader’s knowledge I have never seen one commenter, except for you,  ever apologize for crossing the line.

To the majority of these folks that is a long lost social etiquette along with citing their ” facts”.

I would appreciate you exercising the same discretion to the legion of Malloy haters aka Libertarians who love to take it out on any one who disagrees with them, especially if they are a woman.

Plus it is hypocritical to me that you published Mr. Cowgill’s clear personal attack against Denise Napier, which in my opinion was one of the most unsubstantiated pieces this site ever published.

If you green lighted that piece could you please shed some editorial insight into that one?

Finally I would have appreciated an email to discuss this if you felt I crossed the line.

As a loyal reader of this site it would have been a simple courtesy since you have in the past always respected mu opinions and published my comments.

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