Jack Fresquez, Yale ‘21, left his final class on Nov. 6, 2018, with a mission to vote in the midterm elections. Due to a clerical mix-up, he was forced to same-day register. He took his place around 2:30 p.m. in a line that seemed to grow endlessly as the night went on.
“I ended up waiting for over four hours,” he remembers. “On the second floor of City Hall, the line looped around the entire building. And there were two lines: first to fill out the [registration] papers, and then to submit them.” That was before Jack could even vote.
While Jack was ultimately able to vote, others did not have the same luxury. For parents, elderly, disabled, or working voters, the wait is especially unfeasible.
Early voting options have proven to be a remedy to these long lines. According to a study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, there is a strong correlation between a voting precinct having shorter lines and having early voting options. For example, in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver found that in the 2012 general election the wait for early in-person voting was less than five minutes, and on Election Day it was under 16 minutes.
In Connecticut, a change to permit early and no-excuse absentee voting would require a constitutional amendment. House Joint Resolution No. 161 would’ve begun the process to do just that. Since it was introduced by Committee on Government Administration and Elections, HJR 161 received the necessary approval by at least three-fourths of the members of the House of Representatives. The Senate, however, failed to follow suit. While the resolution passed by a vote of 23 to 13, it was ultimately four votes short of the necessary three-fourths threshold.
Since both chambers passed this resolution but only the House had three-fourths of its members’ approval, the resolution will be referred to the 2020 General Assembly. If a simple majority of legislators in both chambers vote in favor of the resolution, then it will appear on the 2021 ballot for us to vote on.
While this process has proven to be arduous, it is an important one to go through. In the U.S., only 11 states lack early voting or no excuse absentee voting; our state is one of them. We can see from other states that such policies impressively increase voter turnout. In fact, a record 36 million people in the 39 early voting states chose to cast their ballot early in the 2018 midterm elections. The increase in early voting coincided with a large increase in overall voter turnout. In the 2018 midterm elections, over 47 percent of eligible voters voted, up from a 36.7 percent turnout in 2014.
Connecticut’s Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has been a strong proponent for this constitutional change. “We should continue to remove barriers to Connecticut voters exercising their most fundamental right to vote by joining the overwhelming majority of states that allow their voters to cast a ballot before Election Day,” she said in an interview with the CT Post. “This popular, common-sense election reform will help ensure that not only can every Connecticut citizen easily register, but that every registered voter can conveniently vote.”
As Secretary Merrill stressed, passing this constitutional amendment is beyond a question of convenience. HJR 161 would help protect our most basic right of suffrage. This protection is especially important for voters of color who vote early at a high rate. In 2012, a federal court struck down the rollback of early voting laws in Florida. The ruling asserted that “a dramatic reduction in the form of voting that is disproportionately used by African-Americans would make it materially more difficult for some minority voters to cast a ballot than under the prior law.”
It is up to us to ensure that our state does not have these limited voting opportunities, too. Our friends and neighbors, our teachers and hairdressers, should not have to choose between their civic and personal responsibilities. I hope you will join me in supporting this proposed amendment to help protect the voting rights in our great state.
Advocacy starts by calling our representatives and urging them to support this change. We must ensure that the Connecticut General Assembly passes this resolution immediately in 2020 to ensure that we can vote on this issue the following year. Together, we can push for real positive change and expand voting rights in Connecticut.
Nick Randos belongs to the Yale College Democrats.
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