HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Given the possibility of an uptick in coronavirus infections this fall, Connecticut’s House of Representatives on Thursday voted overwhelmingly to give all voters the option to vote by absentee ballot and avoid the polls, during a surreal special session where members donned face masks and voted by computer, most sequestered in their legislative offices.
Lawmakers still planned to also consider a wide-ranging police accountability bill late into the night, but it was unclear whether there was enough support for the proposal.
It marked the first time since March that the General Assembly has convened, due to the COVID-19 crisis. While the state Capitol building and offices were closed to the public, lawmakers were greeted outside by hundreds of shouting protesters. At least six groups staged protests, including police officers from across the state, members of Black Lives Matter, teachers, unionized health care workers, prison reform advocates and people concerned about ballot fraud. At its height, State Capitol Police estimated the combined number of protesters numbered roughly 1,500 people.
Only the House was meeting in special session on Thursday to vote on police, absentee ballot and health care reforms concerning telehealth and insulin pricing. The Senate is scheduled to meet on Tuesday.
The House voted 144-2 in favor of allowing voters to use COVID-19 and their concerns about becoming exposed at the polls as a valid reason for using an absentee ballot in the November election. Connecticut has strict rules about when people can vote by absentee, limiting it to reasons such as being out of town during voting hours or being an active member of the armed services, and some critics of the bill said they worried that expanding that list and allowing special drop boxes for ballots could lead to fraud.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, disagreed, saying it was a matter of life and death for some people, noting infection spikes that happened in other states during their elections. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont already signed an executive order allowing COVID-19 to be an excuse for an absentee ballot in the upcoming Aug. 11 primary, but his authority ends before the general election.
As of Thursday, there have been more than 48,000 positive cases in Connecticut, an increase of 83 since Wednesday. There have been 4,410 COVID-associated deaths, an increase of four since Wednesday. The number of hospitalizations grew by nine, for a total of 72.
Lawmakers also voted unanimously in favor of a bill that expands the types of health care providers that can provide telehealth services, a crucial technology during the pandemic. It also requires that insurance cover the cost. House members later approved another bill that would cap the price of insulin and diabetic supplies and create an emergency insulin program.