In Wisconsin thousands of voters were forced to risk their lives in order to exercise their right to vote. Now at least 52 individuals who voted in person have contracted COVID-19. With asymptomatic cases, high rates of coronavirus transmission and cases still being reported, the total number of cases is likely substantially higher.

Voters should not be forced to choose between participating in our democracy in its most fundamental way —by casting a ballot— and protecting the health of themselves, their families and others in their community. In-person voting violates the basic mandates of social distancing and with the majority of poll workers being older, endangers the individuals most at risk of succumbing to COVID-19.

That’s why, as members and leaders of a broad and diverse group of Connecticut organizations, we are calling on Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders to protect our citizens’ ability to vote safely in both the August 11 presidential primary and the November 3 general election.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill has done an extraordinary job of working within the state’s constitutional and statutory constraints to allow voters to use the “illness” criterion for voting by absentee ballot. In a letter to town clerks and registrars, she went as far as to say, “those that feel ill or think they are ill because of the possibility of contact with the COVID-19 virus should also be included in the category of voters that would qualify as “ill” for the purposes of absentee voting.”

Secretary Merrill also announced a plan to mail all registered voters an absentee ballot application, with return postage paid, and will provide pre-paid postage for returning the absentee ballots themselves. She has committed to offering grants to local municipalities to cover the increased costs of handling absentee ballots, and to provide secure lock boxes for voters to deposit their ballots should they not wish to return them by mail.

These are far-reaching accommodations to ensure ballot access without putting voters’ health at risk. Unfortunately, they do not go far enough. Voters should not have to “think they are ill” in order to legally vote by absentee ballot. The current guidance excludes those voters who may be uncomfortable submitting an absentee ballot application without believing they have COVID-19 at the time of voting. The fear of contracting a life-threatening COVID-19 illness by voting in person is all that should be necessary. No voter in America should ever have to fear for their personal safety in order to cast a ballot.

We appreciate that there are constitutional and statutory barriers, and practical challenges, to meeting these requirements. But it’s not the duty of voters to determine a solution; that’s why we have elected officials.

It’s past time for Governor Lamont and our legislative leaders to take action so that voters aren’t confronted with the untenable choice of putting their health and those of others at risk or not voting. The best way to achieve this goal is for voters to contact the governor and their state legislators with a simple demand: don’t force me to choose between risking my life to vote and not having the freedom to participate in our democracy. Let the fear of coronavirus be a valid reason to vote by absentee ballot.

Valerie Horsley / Terra Volpe, Action Together CT
Steve Ginsburg, ADL Connecticut
Cheri Quickmire, Common Cause in Connecticut
Jeff Schwartz, Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT)
Jeff Leake, Connecticut Education Association
Jeremy Stein, CT Against Gun Violence
Lucy Nolan, CT Alliance to End Sexual Violence
Lori Brown, CT League of Conservation Voters
Lisa Lucarelli Chandler, CT River Huddle
Carol Rizzolo, CT Shoreline Indivisible
Darcy Hicks, DefenDemocracy of CT
Claire Walsh, Democratic Women in Action
Shira Tarantino, The ENOUGH Campaign
Joseph Luciano, ICT4
Jim Chapdelaine, Indivisible CT
Joanna Swomley / Nerlyn Pierson, Indivisible Greenwich
Michelle Abt, Indivisible Stamford
Carol Reimers, League of Women Voters of Connecticut
Paula Bacolini / Marta Daniels, Make Voting Easy
Jenna Sun, March for Our Lives Connecticut
Cindy Wolfe Boynton, National Organization for Women – Connecticut Chapter
Jane Godbey, Orange Indivisible
Gretchen Raffa, Planned Parenthood Votes! Connecticut
Janet Epstein, Prevail Blue
Gail Berritt, ReSisters
Jason Hine, RiseUpMystic
Beth Hillson, Take Action Connecticut (TACT)
Frances Padilla, Universal Health Care Foundation of CT
Jonathan Perloe, Voter Choice Connecticut
Beth Kerrigan, Women’s March Connecticut
Elizabeth Nagurney, Women on Watch
Carol Luckenbach, Women United
Liz Gustafson, NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut
Po Murray, Chairwoman, Newtown Action Alliance

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