On November 8, Connecticut voters will decide whether our state should consider early voting. Unlike most states, our state Constitution limits voting in each election to one day.
The only way for the Connecticut General Assembly to consider early voting here is if Connecticut voters choose YES to the ballot question: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?”
As discussed in the recent debate between candidates for the Secretary of the State, Connecticut is one of only four states (the others are Alabama, Mississippi, and New Hampshire) with no option for all residents to vote in person before Election Day. The Cost of Voting Index, a scholarly examination of election laws across the country, gives Connecticut credit for improving our voter registration rates but ranks us among the 10 states where it is least convenient to cast a ballot.
Voting on one day works for many voters, especially those who own a car and have flexible work schedules. For many, however, it can be a daunting task. The Center for Public Integrity notes that Connecticut’s current rules create barriers for those who cannot “take time off from work, travel to the polls or navigate long lines.”
Long wait times on Election Day and other restrictions disproportionately affect voters of color, harm voter confidence, discourage voting, and create economic costs for voters. The ACLU of Connecticut has highlighted a number of barriers that have faced Black and Latinx voters in Connecticut. They support early voting as a step toward racial justice.
Voting is power. Studies show that elected officials give more attention and more resources to communities that vote in higher rates. While most people think only about voting in federal elections where two of every three eligible voters cast their ballot in 2020, voter participation in local, primary, and special elections is alarmingly low. Ten of the 30 largest cities in the U.S. elect local leaders with less than 15% of eligible voters participating.
Many communities in Connecticut – especially those that face the barriers mentioned above – experience similarly low participation, sometimes electing local leaders with between 5% to 18% of eligible voters weighing in. This gives outsized power to those who do vote. Decreasing barriers to voting can make local government more representative, accessible, and accountable—and would help dispel the intentional myth that voting doesn’t matter.
Voting is also good for us. This year, the American Medical Association House of Delegates declared voting a social determinant of health, which makes it part of a crucial group of factors that have a major impact on people’s health, well-being, and quality of life. Communities that vote in higher rates are better off in numerous indicators of health and well-being.
Early voting does not, by itself, address all barriers to voter participation or the systemic issues that depress voter engagement, but research suggests it can be helpful for those for whom getting to the polls is most challenging (see examples here and here).
Connecticut citizens deserve what 46 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and other U.S. territories have: the opportunity to vote on more than one day. With a strong YES Vote, the General Assembly can get to work debating a system of voting that works for all of us, not just some of us.
To see where the question will be on your ballot, view the sample ballot for your town from the Secretary of the State’s office.
Tanya Rhodes Smith MSW is Director of the Nancy A Humphreys Institute for Political Social Work at the University of Connecticut. Shannon R. Lane LMSW, PhD is an Associate Professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University. Both are members of the Connecticut Scholars Strategy Network.