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Parties clash over changes to Connecticut’s election law

A ballot question in Connecticut this fall could give Democrats the power to rewrite the state’s historically strict election laws.

With Democrats controlling both chambers and every statewide office, this fall’s ballot initiative could spur a series of election reforms aimed at expanding voter access.

Republicans argue that passing the law – which could mean changes to Connecticut’s restrictive absentee ballot or early voting policies – would lead to fraudulent voting.

Currently, voters in Connecticut, as well as 20 other states, can only cast absentee ballots if they provide a reason why they are physically unable to get to the poll, such as military service or attending college out-of-state. In every other state, voters don’t need an excuse to mail in their ballots rather than appear in person.

And unlike voters in a majority of states, Connecticut voters are not allowed to vote early.

Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy has declared support for changes to the law, which he said could increase turnout. Malloy will seek a second-term this fall in one of the country’s most competitive gubernatorial races. Less than 20 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the state’s primaries this year.

Some in the GOP also warned that allowing Democrats to control the process would give the party an edge in future elections. However, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley told the Hartford Courant that he “supports measures to make voting easier.”

The issue of voter fraud has grabbed attention in state legislatures across the country. Lawmakers in at least 24 states have considered voter ID laws in 2014 alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nearly a dozen states now mandate a photo ID to vote and about 20 states, including Connecticut, ask for some form of identification.

Much of this recent legislation has emerged in GOP-controlled legislatures, facing pushback from Democrats nationwide.

Map: The National Conference of State Legislatures

Multiple states have faced legal challenges for voter ID laws, including Pennsylvania and Arkansas. But elsewhere, states like Texas have moved forward with voter ID enforcement after last summer’s Supreme Court ruling struck down a key piece of the Voting Rights Act.

Still, election watchers across the country argue that voter fraud – such as voting under a false name or casting multiple ballots – is hardly an issue in U.S. elections.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank, has described election-related fraud as “greatly exaggerated.”

“Voter fraud, in particular, has the feel of a bank heist caper: roundly condemned but technically fascinating, and sufficiently lurid to grab and hold headlines,” a report from the center reads. “Yet on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.”

Just 10 cases of alleged voter impersonation were reported nationwide in 2012, according to an analysis by Arizona State University’s News21. That equates to about one incident for every 15 million voters.

Av Harris, a spokesman for Connecticut’s Secretary of the State, told the Hartford Courant that cases of voter fraud are “really, really rare” in Connecticut.

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