For weeks, Connecticut voters have waited to learn if they will have to choose between safeguarding their health or exercising their right to vote in the November general election. Even in these worst of times, this is a choice no voter should face. Because the state constitution tightly prescribes the conditions for absentee voting, and state statute is even more restrictive, no-excuse absentee ballot voting is not available in Connecticut as it is in many other states, both red and blue.
So, we were encouraged that on June 9, the Democratic leadership of the CT General Assembly appealed to Gov. Ned Lamont to call a special session in order to pass the statutory changes needed to make absentee ballots available to every eligible voter, just for the 2020 general election. Gov. Lamont responded that he intends to call a special session “very soon to resolve the issue of absentee ballots in the November general election” (as well as to take action on police accountability in response to the massive outcry to the police murder of George Floyd).
However, the governor’s letter comes with a significant caveat: he won’t call lawmakers back to Hartford until and unless a legislative package, preferably bi-partisan, is agreed to that will pass both the House and Senate. This is an invitation for inaction, and given the legislature’s obvious reluctance to call itself into session, not a reassuring sign. Because nothing less than our right to vote is at stake, legislative leaders must set a date certain to meet, not later than mid-July.
The legislative fix needed to expand absentee ballot access to all voters during the pandemic has been discussed widely; there should be no difficulty agreeing on language. More importantly, the legislature has the power to call itself into a special session upon the request of a majority of legislators in both chambers; it does not need the governor to order it to convene.
Time is of the essence. The Secretary of the State’s office confirmed that the legislature must meet in June, or at the latest July, to provide enough time to put the Secretary’s comprehensive 2020 election plan in place to address the unprecedented issues created by the pandemic.
While Democratic legislative leaders, and Gov. Lamont, are on record saying they want to take action, it is discouraging that Republican leaders are throwing up roadblocks — turning the concerns of voters into a partisan issue. Achieving a bi-partisan solution, as requested by the governor, is questionable given past Republican opposition to election reform, including blocking last year’s House Joint Resolution 161 asking voters if the state constitution should be amended to allow early voting.
The position of Senate minority leader Len Fasano is indefensible. In response to Gov. Lamont’s executive order expanding access to absentee ballots to all eligible voters for the August presidential primary, he wrote that the governor has used his authority to “eviscerate” the state constitution, and that the order “begs for legal challenges.” Sen. Fasano acknowledged that he does not favor expanding access to all voters, writing only that he “can understand the need for vulnerable populations and those with preexisting conditions to vote by absentee ballot.” He concluded by saying we can be “innovative in how we help people access their right to vote” but proposed no solutions.
The most pernicious aspect of the Connecticut GOP opposition to expanding absentee ballot access is their accusation about voter fraud. House minority leader Themis Klarides told PBS Newshour that “voter fraud has been a huge issue in Connecticut.” When asked to provide specific instances, Rep. Klarides responded, “I don’t have them on me.”
The reason Rep. Klarides couldn’t support her claim of massive voter fraud is because it doesn’t exist. Numerous studies have concluded that voter fraud is virtually non-existent, for both in-person and mail-in voting. News21, an initiative supported by the Carnegie and Knight foundations, documented just 196 cases of alleged election fraud in Connecticut over the years 2000 to 2012, during which time approximately 12 million votes were cast. Alleged incidents specific to absentee ballots totaled 89. Of those, 70 were found to have merit. At 0.0006% of votes cast, the rate of documented absentee ballot fraud is infinitesimal and indefensible as a reason to restrict access.
Despite the paucity of election fraud, incidents of illegal absentee ballot misconduct by political operatives in Connecticut occur, including in Bridgeport. Illegal and unethical conduct must not be tolerated, whether by voters or third parties. We call on the legislature and the Secretary of the State to appoint monitors in any jurisdiction where credible cases of misconduct have been reported across election cycles.
Ensuring every eligible voter can exercise their constitutional right to vote should not be a partisan issue. Voting by mail is supported by 70% of Americans. Favorability among Republican voters jumps from 49% nationally to 68% in states where large numbers vote by mail.
We call on Republican legislative leaders to join their Democratic counterparts in support of expanding absentee ballot access for the November 3 general election to all voters who fear putting their health at risk, or someone else’s, due to COVID-19. All six legislative leaders must set a date no later than July 15 to vote on the legislative fix to allow the Secretary of the State, registrars and town clerks to get on with the work of ensuring a smooth, secure and safe general election. Our democracy depends on it.
Gail Berritt, ReSisters
Jonathan Perloe, Voter Choice Connecticut
Alisa Trachtenberg, Indivisible CT4
Joined by these organizations representing thousands of voters throughout Connecticut:
Action Together Connecticut
Bridgeport Generation Now
CT Citizens Action Group
Common Cause in Connecticut
CT League of Conservation Voters
CT River Huddle, Glastonbury
CT Shoreline Indivisible
DefenDemocracy of CT
Democratic Women In Action
Every Vote Counts – Wesleyan Chapter
Every Vote Counts – Yale Chapter
Make Voting Easy
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America – CT Chapter
NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut
National Organization for Women – CT Chapter
Newtown Action Alliance
Take Action CT
The Bridgeport Everyday Project
The ENOUGH Campaign
Universal Health Care Foundation of CT
Voter Choice Connecticut
Women’s March CT
Women on Watch