‘Lawmakers kill bill that would have created mandatory prison terms for CT election fraud’ | CT Insider

May 3, 2024

Article from the CT Insider:


The law-writing Judiciary Committee on Friday killed legislation that would have created mandatory jail time for people convicted of a wide range of election-related fraud.


The bill, which would have required a minimum sentence of one year in prison for anyone convicted of election fraud or interferrance, originated in the Government Administration & Elections Committee, or GAE. It was voted down by Democrats who have a 24-13 majority on the other committee overseeing judicial matters during a 20-minute discussion before the morning session of the House of Representatives convened.


Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Steve Stafstrom of Bridgeport, opposed the bill — which was pushed by Republicans, who have a 97-54 minority in the House and a 24-12 minority in the Senate — in response to the irregularities in last September’s Democratic mayoral primary in Bridgeport, which included video of people allegedly placing multiple absentee ballots into a collection box.


“We saw on video, effectively, some election interference and the Republican caucus, both the House and Senate, have been very forthright in making sure people understand our desire to address these problems,” said Sen. Rob Sampson of Wolcott, a ranking Republican on the GAE Committee. “There are a number of election-related crimes, everything from election officials interfering with a tabulator machine or producing improper ballots, to people that are actually engaged in ballot harvesting and interfering with elections. All of those things are already crimes, but to my knowledge, no one has ever served a moment of jail time in Connecticut for any of those things in the past, despite the fact that there having been convictions.”


Sampson said that mandatory minimum sentences would act as a graphic deterrent to election fraud.


Stafstrom, who led Democratic opposition that killed the bill, offered Sampson the hypothetical of someone wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt, standing outside a polling place in a threatening manner that could discourage a voter from entering the building.


“As I read this language, intent is not necessary, particularly with respect to influence,” Stafstrom said of the bill, know as Senate Bill 390. “I am reasonably fearful that person may have a gun and that influences me to stay away from the polling place. A (class) D felony, particularly for someone who has never had any run-in with the law before, is eligible for accelerated rehabilitation,” and avoid a prison sentence. “Under this language, the judge’s discretion to give that person AR, would be taken away and the individual would have to serve a year in prison.”


Sampson noted that the amendment process would allow the Judiciary Committee to make any changes to the bill. Stafstrom responded that with the May 8 adjournment deadline just a few days a way, the bill would likely not be called in the Senate, which had referred it to the committee.


State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, a member of the Judiciary Committee who is also co-chairman of the GAE Committee, said mandatory minimums have been found not to deter crime. “Mandatory minimums have been a tried and frankly, a failed policy tool in the criminal justice system,” he said. “They have contributed to over-incarceration. They have removed discretion that is vital to due process for individual judges to consider the individual facts of an individual case to decide an appropriate punishment. And frankly, they’re not effective.”


A couple hours later, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford and Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco of Wolcott, a ranking Republican on the GAE Committee, said they were both disappointed with the Judiciary Committee action.


“It seems as if Democrats will pay only lip service to keeping our elections clean and addressing serious alleged violations that have been caught on tape. Keep in mind, SB 390 was wholeheartedly supported by the very agency that has oversight of violations of election laws, the State Elections Enforcement Commission,” they said in a joint statement.


Meanwhile, in an early afternoon vote, the House of Representatives voted 150-0 to approve legislation that would require video surveillance of election drop boxes and limit political campaign workers to taking out no more than five applications for absentee ballots. The bill moves to the Senate for final action.