The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on American life; voting is no exception. A review of the April 2020 Presidential primary in Wisconsin traced at least 52 cases of COVID-19 to in-person voting, with a substantial increase in cases in the weeks following the primary.
As a result, many states have adopted absentee voting as a public health measure. Connecticut successfully allowed effectively no-excuse absentee voting for the 2020 presidential election in light of the pandemic, during which fewer than 1% of absentee ballots were rejected for any reason.
Two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Omicron variant is more contagious than any that we faced in the early stages of the pandemic, and the new BA.2 variant is 30% more transmissible even than Omicron. The slow but steady rise in cases nationwide makes it abundantly clear that COVID-19 is unpredictable and can mutate and resurge at any time.
Thus, it is crucial to have measures in place to protect the electoral process if the pandemic worsens come November. By making the pandemic an acceptable excuse for any voter to cast an absentee ballot, Senate Bill 184, which currently awaits a vote in the Connecticut Senate, will do just that.
Passing S.B. 184 is a critical measure to ensure that the 2022 midterm elections are equitably accessible to all Connecticut voters. However, S.B. 184 will only make this change for the 2022 general election. In the busy world of the 21st century, and in the post-pandemic world in which we have developed secure, reliable absentee voting infrastructure, there is no reason not to allow voters the agency to choose to vote absentee permanently. House Joint Resolution 114 proposes a Constitutional amendment that will allow voters to vote absentee without an excuse, to be voted on by the public in the November election if the resolution passes.
The changes that H.J. 114 would propose have great precedent across the country. Twenty-six of our 50 states, along with Washington, D.C., allow registered voters to vote via absentee ballot with no excuse in any election, and Connecticut is not one of them. With H.J. 114, Connecticut has the chance to join them in paving the way for greater voter accessibility, especially with voter suppression laws taking hold of many states in our nation.
There are also a number of states who have gone even farther and began conducting their elections entirely by mail. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Washington, California , and Vermont (states with a variety of political climates) all have begun to conduct elections using almost entirely mail-in ballots. This practice is extremely secure —voter fraud is rare, with only 16 ballots being cast in these seven states combined since 2020, according to a Heritage Foundation voter fraud database.
Furthermore, a 2020 study found that implementing universal vote-by-mail (which goes even a step further than this bill) does not favor one party over another in turnout within the party or in the election itself. The same study saw a 2% increase on average in overall voter turnout in states that had implemented universal vote-by-mail.
Connecticut is clearly behind the ballot access curve in the United States. Public health and democratic health experts alike agree that there is no excuse for our state to restrict absentee voting, especially in a pandemic. COVID-19 is still prominent, and absentee voter fraud still is not.
Justice for immunocompromised and senior-citizen voters requires giving them the option to vote from the safety of their homes rather than risking their health to vote in person. Justice for low-income voters working multiple jobs to make ends meet, especially since Election Day has yet to become a national holiday, requires allowing them to cast their ballots on their own time—when and how they choose.
This is, perhaps most importantly, an issue of individual choice. S.B. 168 would allow each voter to choose whether absentee or in-person voting is best for them in the November 8, 2022 election. H.J. 114 would give voters the license to choose in that election whether they believe Connecticut’s Constitution should guarantee an absentee ballot to anyone who wants it.
Tell your legislators that it is time to put democracy back in the hands of the people; it is time to let the voters choose.
Brook Smith of New Haven is a member of the Yale College Democrats.