With a pandemic raging and taking hundreds of lives weekly in 2020, any eligible Connecticut voter could vote by absentee ballot. The method proved both secure and manageable. This voting option—and the option to vote early, in person or otherwise—can be made permanent with changes to our state Constitution.
Republicans in the Connecticut state legislature are resisting efforts to make these options permanently available, even though a Survey USA poll released early this year showed that 73% of Connecticut voters support giving all voters the option to vote by absentee ballot without needing an excuse, and 79% support early voting.
Republicans appear ready to oppose two bills, HJ 58 and HJ 59, which will put to a referendum the changes in our state’s Constitution needed to permit no-excuse absentee voting (NEAV) and early voting (EV).
Passage of HJ 58 by a 75% majority in both the State House and Senate and HJ 59 by a simple majority in both chambers will give all Connecticut voters the opportunity to vote in a referendum, in 2022, on whether they want some version of NEAV and EV to become permanent. Only if both bills pass by these majorities, and voters approve the constitutional amendments in 2022, will these voting options be available for the 2024 election.
Once enabled by these amendments to our state Constitution, the particulars for NEAV and EV will be enacted into law in statutes that the Connecticut legislature will draft, conduct hearings on, and ultimately vote on. At every step and well before the statutory changes go into effect, legislators’ constituencies, local election officials, and other experts can provide input on implementing NEAV and EV laws to maximize voter participation while minimizing cost and human error.
The need and desire for the bills is readily apparent. About 35% of Connecticut’s record 2.3 million registered voters used the absentee ballot in elections last fall, about four times the typical rate. This, along with early access, is encouraging. That’s because Connecticut’s limited voting options have historically disproportionately harmed voters of color. In recent elections, long lines at polling stations have repeatedly affected cities and precincts with large concentrations of voters of color. Additional options for voting will also help people with little job flexibility, lacking access to transportation and childcare and those with disabilities.
Senator Will Haskell, Representative Aimee Berger-Girvalo and Representative Ken Gucker, all Democrats, are fighting to accomplish these and other voting reforms in this session. Do thank them with a call or e-mail. More importantly, to help them accomplish these ballot access reforms you can reach out to friends and family in districts represented by Republicans. As constituents, their calls and emails are key to holding Connecticut Republicans accountable for working straight from their party’s national playbook to create fear-based confusion, doubt and distrust of the democratic process. Rob Sampson, for example, Republican representing the 16th State Senate district (Wolcott, Southington, Prospect), commandeered considerable public hearing time to speculate what might happen if the Constitution’s language on voting process were changed. He said, “We’re changing the Constitution of the State of Connecticut that has existed in the same way on this subject since the beginning.”
In “the beginning,” voting in Connecticut was restricted to white male property owners over the age of 21. At least half of Senator Sampson’s constituents who “in the beginning” could not vote, are now able to do so, thanks to the same thoughtful, multi-step process that Senator Sampson and most of his Republican colleagues would prefer not to undertake for HJ 58 and HJ 59.
All the Democrats on the committee holding a hearing on the bill—including Senator Will Haskell—voted in favor of advancing both bills to the full legislature. But all of Senator Sampson’s Republican colleagues voted with him against advancing HJ 58, and only two Republicans voted to advance HJ 59. “We the people” is more than a big idea. It is an action, often a courageous one. For those who have never done so before, calling one’s elected official to insist he or she vote “yes” on HJ 58 and HJ 59 may take courage. When you urge your friends and family to call their Republican legislators, remind them: They are answerable to you. Tell them: When you are up for re-election, I’ll remember how you voted on NEAV and EV.
Contributed by Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee members Angela Liptack and Alisa Trachtenberg.