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New law allows permanent absentee voting status for some

There is a new voting option for disabled voters in Connecticut.

Enacted by the Connecticut General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Dannel Malloy last year, Public Act No. 12-57 establishes permanent absentee ballot voting status for Connecticut voters with disabilities.

This new option became available for Connecticut voters with disabilities starting Jan. 1. It permits those with a note from a doctor certifying that they are chronically or permanently disabled to vote by absentee ballot for all future elections.

The permanent absentee ballot status is to be administered by Connecticut town clerks, who are required to automatically mail qualifying voters absentee ballots prior to every election, primary or referendum.

Clerks must also send permanent absentee voters a yearly letter asking whether the individual wants to continue voting by absentee ballot, which the voter must confirm in order to retain his or her permanent absentee voting status.

“This is a very compassionate and commonsense change to our absentee ballot laws to allow those who face true hardship leaving their homes to get to the polling place a very convenient option to vote privately and independently out of the comfort of their own home indefinitely,” said Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, Connecticut’s chief elections official. “This new law will make it far more convenient for disabled voters to cast absentee ballots without having to apply for that ballot prior to every election.”

Ms. Merrill said, “I want to stress that we are not discouraging any disabled voter from going to the polling place to cast a ballot, and indeed every polling place in Connecticut must by law be accessible with assistance for disabled voters, and the vote-by-phone system. This is just another very convenient voting option available for disabled voters, and I commend the leadership of Rep. Sandy Nafis [D-27 of Newington], who first heard about this issue from a constituent and led the effort to pass it into law.

“Hopefully this new flexibility in absentee voting will result in more disabled voters exercising their right to vote,” Ms. Merrill said.

Ms. Nafis first heard about the issue in 2006 from Dolores Carron, a constituent from Newington who had written a letter to the Hartford Courant about the difficulties facing disabled voters who try to get to the polls.

“I am very pleased that the bill I introduced is now law,” Ms. Nafis said. “This is a major step in making it easier for all disabled voters in our state to be able to cast their ballots. We truly recognize that each and every voter with a physical disability should be able to exercise his or her right to vote at a polling place that is accessible. I thank everyone who worked together to make this all happen.”

Joyce Mascena, town clerk of Glastonbury and president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said, “The town clerks of Connecticut look forward to working with Secretary Merrill’s office to implement this new absentee ballot option for our disabled voters. Our disabled citizens are our friends, neighbors and family, and we as town clerks are committed to doing our part so that any disabled voter who wants to cast an absentee ballot can sign up for this permanent status.”

Gretchen Knauff, assistant director of the Connecticut State Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, said, “In addition to accessible polling places and voting systems, the permanent absentee ballot is another option to assist people with disabilities in accessing their right to vote. It makes it easier for voters with disabilities who cannot otherwise get to the polls to exercise their fundamental right to vote and participate in democracy.”

Anyone interested in qualifying for permanent absentee ballot status may visit the secretary of the state’s website at sots.ct.gov to find out more.

Or they may contact Donna Anastasia at the Weston town clerk’s office, 203-222-2616 or danastasia@westonct.gov.

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