As medical professionals devoted to promoting the health and well-being of children and families, we, the Connecticut Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Connecticut Psychiatric Society, and the Connecticut State Medical Society, support mail-in-ballots and urge decisive action to ensure this option is made available to every citizen prior to Election Day.
The preservation of the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of a free, nondiscriminatory, and egalitarian society. Forcing citizens to choose between their health or their right to vote risks their health and safety today, and jeopardizes that of their children, families, and communities for generations to come.
There are objective public health reasons for permitting mail-in ballots during a pandemic. Confinement due to COVID-19, medical conditions that increase COVID-19 risk, or wanting to avoid exposure to a life-threatening infections agent are all valid reasons to justify options for safer alternative voting methods. Since March, nearly 2 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the U.S., and over 110,000 have lost their lives to this devastating disease. As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, our nation cannot ignore the possibility of a “second wave.” And with the threat of influenza looming this autumn, the potential resurgence of COVID-19 could have even greater consequences.
In the face of these very real risks, we have a duty to preserve every citizen’s constitutional right to vote.
…A society that does not ensure its citizens can vote safely and securely endangers the basic conditions of our democracy, sending the message that it does not respect the basic health and well-being of its current or future constituents.
Historically, illness outbreaks have negatively impacted voter turnout. A 2017 study found influenza outbreaks were associated with decreased voter turnout for elections held between 1995 and 2015. Similarly, in the midst of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, voter turnout for the national election was 20% lower than in 1914 – representing the loss of three million American voters.
Voting is a right, not a privilege, and citizens must not be forced to choose between casting their ballot or endangering their or their families’ lives. We live in a time when health inequities predominate, and when communities are gathered nationwide to protest the poisonous and prevailing legacy of what Jim Wallis called “America’s original sins:” racism and slavery. Persons of color, immigrants, non-English speakers, people with mental health disorders, and the incarcerated have been chronically marginalized in our society. If we do not act now to protect their right to vote safely and securely, these communities risk further disenfranchisement from preexisting health inequities and the significant personal and financial strain caused by COVID-19.
The act of voting for representation is a participatory act in a democratic government. It affirms the dignity of individual human lives. Affording people an opportunity to choose their representatives not only gives voice to their values but promotes inclusiveness in their community and nation. Voting allows citizens to select leaders who promise to address healthcare, educational, and economic disparities. Without this prospect for positive change toward equitable opportunities, demoralization and despair follow – key contributors to poor health, low quality of life, and shorter life-expectancy.
Those of us who work with children and families everyday are acutely aware how formative parents and educators are to the social, emotional, and moral development of youth. We are attuned to how values are passed down from generation to generation. We recoil when adults mistreat children, knowing that these children often carry lifelong scars. As adults, they are at risk of continuing this maltreatment toward the next unfortunate generation. These adults of the future – our future protectors of children, our future leaders – are absorbing how today’s leaders regard the citizens they serve. Just as parents are reflected in their children, a society that does not ensure its citizens can vote safely and securely endangers the basic conditions of our democracy, sending the message that it does not respect the basic health and well-being of its current or future constituents.
All elected officials have an immediate decision to make. Will they work to ensure that every eligible citizen in this country can vote without fear of infection or illness? Or will they risk the health of its citizens by forcing them to vote in person and restrict their voices by prohibiting mail-in-ballots? In other words, will they risk mass disenfranchisement, sustain social and systemic disparities, and perpetuate inequality for generations to come? We stand by our belief that citizens must be given the option to vote by mail-in-ballot this Election Day. Nothing less than the preservation of our democracy and the health and well-being of our citizens is at stake.
Paul Rao, M.D., President, Connecticut Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Mirjana Domakonda, M.D., Sheena Joychan, M.D., Dorothy Stubbe, M.D., Executive Committee Members, Connecticut Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Robert Dudley, M.D., M.Ed., FAAP, President, Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Steven Madonick, MD, President, Connecticut Psychiatric Society
Subbarao Bollepoli, M.D., President, Connecticut State Medical Society