The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT)

Not voting in Conn. could come with an infraction and a fine

- DAN HAAR COMMENTARY dhaar@hearstmedi­

It’s a free country as every politician tells us, and what makes us free is democracy — the vote!

But are you free to not vote? Yes, for now. In every local, state and federal election, you the citizen have the right to stay home on ballot day, and even to refrain from registerin­g in the first place.

Some liberal Democrats in the state legislatur­e want to change that — with two separate bill proposals that would make voting mandatory. One of the plans calls for a small fine — an undetermin­ed amount — for potential voters who fail to cast a ballot or produce an excuse why they sat out an election.

You read that right. Never mind that nearly 20 percent of the population, more in other states, declined to make themselves fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a public health emergency. The voting bill would add a requiremen­t that everyone who can exercise their right to participat­e in the sacred ritual, do so.

“If you want to be living in a democracy and you want democracy to work, then you vote,” said Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, lead sponsor of one of the two bills. “We’re not talking about making it a criminal penalty. … It would be a very minor infraction.”

Before you sharpen your pitchforks for a protest on freedom, this is just an idea kicking around the Capitol. Chances are low it will become law anytime soon. Still, it’s serious, not whimsical.

“I think we’re just having a conversati­on. I’m not saying this should happen,” said Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, co-chair of the Government Administra­tion and Elections Committee. “This is supposed to be a deliberati­ve body and that’s what we’re doing, deliberati­ng.”

Like the mansion tax idea by the state Senate president pro-tem, just the notion of a mandatory vote is enough to send Republican critics into a dither with a political layup.

“Republican­s believe in your freedom to choose not to vote, even though we encourage you to do so.

Freedom is a principle Democrats have ignored for quite some time,” the CT GOP tweeted.

Ben Proto, the Republican state chairman, was incredulou­s Tuesday night that the bill is headed to a public hearing.

Relax, opponents of forced democracy — the hearing, with no date set yet, is only on the concept, not the specific language of a bill. And Connecticu­t already has a fairly high participat­ion rate compared with other states.

“Here in the General Assembly I think we should be in the business of talking about ideas,” said Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, co-chair of the committtee, “and not rejecting them out of hand.”

Blumenthal said he’s not sure whether requiring citizens to vote would

even be constituti­onal. Australia, among other nations, has such a law, and other states including Washington are discussing it.

“I’m sure we will have people testifying against it here,” Blumenthal said.

Yes we will. I personally favor voting as often as possible and I’ve been a member of both major parties, just to cast ballots in the most interestin­g primaries available.

Proponents say a couple of dozen countries have what they call universal voting rules, including Australia. The national leader of the movement is Miles Rapoport, the Connecticu­t Secretary of the State from 1995 to 1999, who has been a top national progressiv­e advocate on economic and open access issues for a generation.

“We need to have more engagement on the issues,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, a co-sponsor. “Sometimes a small organized minority can just move the polity in the wrong direction and we have to have interventi­on from the larger society to share perspectiv­es.”

I’m still stuck on the extreme feel of having to vote. My favored punishment would the stockade. Nothing painful, just a return to our colonial roots as long as we’re pushing democracy.

Anwar, a physician who favored mandatory vaccinatio­ns for targeted groups such as health care workers, doesn’t love the stockade idea. But he said, “Right now we don’t have enough people who come out to vote.”

 ?? Carol Kaliff/For Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? Danbury residents vote at Stadley Rough School on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.
Carol Kaliff/For Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo Danbury residents vote at Stadley Rough School on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.
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