Even though Connecticut is a blue state with a Democratically controlled house, senate and governor, it is just one of seven states in the nation does not allow universal absentee voting prior to election day.
As the COVID-19 pandemic raged during the primary season, the Connecticut legislature voted to permit Connecticut residents to cast absentee ballots. Who would have thought that it would take a pandemic during a presidential election year to expand access to voting in Connecticut and allow more residents to vote than ever before?
In the past few years, absentee and mail-in voting has expanded across the nation as 46% of voters cast their ballots by absentee or mail in ballot in the November presidential election. In Connecticut, even amidst the pandemic, voter turnout was up 2.76% in the 2020 presidential election, and the Secretary of the State reports that 35.43% of the votes cast were cast by absentee ballot.
It took a devastating global pandemic to reveal how far behind Connecticut is in terms of voter accessibility. State Representative Christine Palm, a Democrat who represents Chester has been influential in bringing absentee voting to the forefront of the General Assemblies docket for 2021. According to Palm, “Connecticut is one of the four least accessible, most regressive states when it comes to our voting laws.”
In the 2014 session in Connecticut, no-excuse absentee ballots went to referendum but failed by a narrow margin. In order to make the necessary changes to allow Connecticut residents to use no-excuse absentee ballots there is no alternative except amending the state constitution to allow it.
The legislature needs to act quickly to pass House Joint Resolution 58 which will begin the process of amending the state constitution. Doing so will allow voters to vote more conveniently, as was the case when more than 650,000 Connecticut residents voted by absentee ballot in the November 2020 election.
Currently one can only receive a ballot for a valid military, business, or illness excuse, or if one volunteers as a poll worker. However, 2020 has shown that no excuse absentee voting can be safe and successful. During 2020 election cycle a bi-partisan group of municipal election officials led the effort across the state. Secretary Of State Denise Merrill affirms that “Connecticut proved that we can allow our voters to choose to vote conveniently. It is time to remove the remaining obstacle from the constitution to make this a reality for future elections.” Merrill, who has been a warrior for voting rights since she took office more than ten years ago, could have implemented permanent and more expansive voting rights policies if she had not been restricted by the state constitution.
It is true that some worry about the possibility of voter fraud. However, studies show that the level of fraud related to mail balloting is infinitesimally small. It is an unquestionable fact that technology and security has improved exponentially and the 2020 election was deemed the “most secure in history.”
The times are changing. It’s the duty of state representatives to respond to voter preferences and expand access to the ballot box whether that vote be cast in person or by mail. No one should have to offer proof to vote by mail. In 2020, one in five in-person voters waited more than 30 minutes to vote. Connecticut’s 14-hour election day voting window is simply too restrictive for many voters. If Connecticut does not change its provisions before the next election cycle the state will be on the wrong side of history.
The 2020 election demonstrated that absentee voting can take place in an orderly and secure way. We can see that when people had greater access turnout was improved. While voter suppression is not the goal in Connecticut, the archaic constitutional restrictions in place have the consequence of suppressing the vote by not opening up accessibility. It should not be more difficult to vote in Connecticut than in states that have deliberately imposed restrictive laws in the past few years. The General Assembly must act to eliminate current voting restrictions by passing House Joint Resolution 58.
Madeleine White is a student at Trinity College.