Sen. Kelly: Criminal investigation into Bport ballot misuse highlights need for oversight & reforms

August 31, 2023

For Immediate Release

Sen. Kelly: Criminal Investigation into Bridgeport Ballot Misuse Highlights Need for Better Oversight and Systemic Reforms

Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly issued the following statement regarding the revelation that the Chief State’s attorney’s office has launched an investigation into alleged misuse of absentee ballots in Bridgeport.

“This alleged criminal activity points to the need for bipartisan reforms. In the wake of the people’s constitutional amendment for early voting, we can either stick our heads in the sand, or we can show leadership by passing reasonable policy solutions that improve our electoral process.

“Connecticut Senate Republicans chose the latter this year. It happened during the debate on early voting. Under the legislation that passed, Connecticut voters will have 14 days to cast their general election ballots early and in person.

“Prior to the final vote on the bill, Senate Republicans offered multiple amendments aimed at improving access to voting, inspiring confidence in Connecticut elections, and preventing the cost burdens of early voting from being foisted upon towns and local taxpayers. Each amendment failed along partisan lines, and that is very disappointing.

“What ideas were rejected?  We have all seen long lines at polling places, particularly in our cities.  Those long lines can deter people from casting their vote. This is a glaring voting access problem, so Republicans proposed a solution in the form of an amendment to ensure people don’t wait longer than a half-hour to vote. A 30-minute rule is a reasonable proposal, but it amazingly didn’t garner a single Democratic vote.

“The law that passed requires every municipality to establish at least one early voting location, and they may establish more if they choose. That “may” is a key word. What if a municipality — for example, a large population city, cannot afford to open more than one polling location?

“Callie Gale Heilmann, president of Bridgeport Generation Now, made that very point early this year.  “The city of Bridgeport and cities like Hartford and New Haven, they must have multiple (early voting) sites,” she said. “It’s not a ‘may.’ They must. And we also know that, without a mandate, cities may not.”

“Other advocates worried that without an adequate number of polling locations, voters may encounter crowds at the early polls. John Erlingheuser, advocacy director of the Connecticut AARP, said lines posed problems for seniors. “Many older voters with physical limitation, they lack access to transportation to be able to get to a voting location, they can’t stand in long lines and that puts participation in the electoral process at risk,” Erlingheuser said.

“Republicans heard the concerns raised by Bridgeport Generation Now and Connecticut AARP. In addition to our 30-minute wait amendment, we put forward an amendment to require cities to open up more polling centers. We owe municipal election professionals a workable state policy which would enable them to properly staff polling sites. Our reasonable ideas were voted down by the majority.

“In addition to Senate Republicans’ attempts to expand access to voting, we wanted to prevent the costs to implement early voting from burdening local taxpayers. A fiscal note for the bill warned that it would mean “significant ongoing labor costs to the state and municipalities.” It noted that since the bill doesn’t say anything about labor costs, those costs would fall to the municipality. Republican amendments to undo those burdens on municipalities by having the state of Connecticut cover the substantial new costs were also rejected by majority Democrats.

“The result of these failed attempts to improve the early voting bill will end up harming our most struggling, vulnerable and fiscally challenged communities and individuals the most. That truly is shameful. A financially distressed municipality with a limited grand list, for example, now must deal with added burdens thanks to the Democratic majority’s decisions. Meanwhile, a town with healthy finances will have an easier time of addressing the mandates. Through their votes, Democrats tipped the balance and have given an electoral advantage to communities of means. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer in one-party rule Connecticut.

“In the end, the bill’s many shortcomings were not addressed. Because Democrats insisted on a partisan, political approach to early voting rather than a people-centered, principled approach, cities and towns with large populations were not given an incentive to expand access to voting. The resulting expenses to municipalities will rise without compensation for the new costs.

“Rule-making with regard to something as important as our elections must not be decided by party line votes. The people of Connecticut deserve better. Republicans’ ideas sought to find common ground by confronting the bill’s lack of voting access and high price tag. We sought to respect the sacrifices of taxpayers by proposing fixes to address voter suppression and unfunded mandates. Our ideas were dismissed out of hand by the majority.

“Those who accuse Republicans of attempting to “suppress the vote” need only look at our experience here in Connecticut to see that those accusations are absurd. I wish we could have had a unanimous early voting product, one which honors the vote of every voter. Republicans are not standing in the way of voting access. To the contrary, majority Democrats are, and they now have a voting record to prove it.

“Connecticut’s early voting amendments story demonstrates that Republicans are standing up for good policy by implementing early voting in a better way. We had an opportunity to roll out early voting in a responsible, respectful and thoughtful manner. Once again, Republicans’ solutions, which would have been beneficial to all citizens of Connecticut, were disregarded.

“So don’t be surprised, Connecticut voters, if you continue to see the “disruptive, disenfranchising, long voting lines” headlines describing these fixable situations here in our state. Republicans are actively endeavoring to solve this problem, and we will continue to put forth solutions which seek to create voting equity.

“The voters in Connecticut’s most vulnerable communities must be heard, not ignored. We must view this criminal investigation as a call to act.”