For The People Act: More than just a remedy against restrictive voter laws
It can be hard to vote, even in “blue state” Connecticut. Connecticut does not have early voting or no-excuse absentee voting. Most voters are forced to vote in person on election day. The only option for voting on a day other than election day is to vote absentee with a qualifying excuse.
To vote absentee a Connecticut resident must fill out a form, mail the form to their town clerk who will then mail an absentee ballot, which the voter then has to mail back. The most time-effective way, prior to the pandemic, to vote absentee was to walk into your registrar of voters office. A Connecticut resident wishing to vote absentee cannot make the request online.
Connecticut residents can register to vote online, but otherwise our voting systems have not caught up to life in 2021. Just this year the Connecticut General Assembly will be considering a bill with a provision revising existing laws so that registration systems can be advertised online, replacing newspaper announcements.
The For the People Act of 2021 is a proposed federal bill that would make it easier to vote and provide funding for technological updates. The bill requires states to hold early voting and create an online absentee ballot application process. In addition to enhancing voter access, the new bill also provides for much needed state funding to upgrade voting systems. The For the People Act of 2021, also known as H.R. 1 and S. 1, includes provisions for the federal government to give grants to states to pay for needed updates.
Grants would be given to states for “investments supporting electronic information, transfer, including electronic collection and transfer of signatures” and “updates to online or electronic voter registration systems already operating.” You may think the For the People Act is federal action designed to combat restrictive voter laws like the one just signed into law in Georgia. This law isn’t just aimed at protecting voters from conservative state legislators who hope to limit the participation of likely liberal voters. The For the People Act will strengthen our democracy even in “blue state” Connecticut.
In Connecticut we have municipal, state, and federal government. The three levels of government embody the principle of federalism. Cooperative federalism, which means the different levels of government work together, is seen most clearly in our elections. Municipal officials oversee elections in Connecticut with some support and regulation from the state and federal government. Municipalities are responsible for following state and federal laws when administering elections and voter registration.
Each level of government is dependent on the municipal administration of elections and maintenance of the voter rolls. Connecticut’s 169 towns administer their own elections. Elections and voter registration maintenance are funded by municipal governments. The state pays for the state database used by every town, but other associated costs are paid for by each town. Even the professional certification and development courses for registrars, offered by UConn, are paid for by local government dollars.
Connecticut needs to update our voter registration system because a better database would improve the efficiency of workers in registrar of voters offices across the state. The current website is slow and runs on Internet Explorer, an outdated web browser. The Secretary of the State announced plans to make upgrades to Connecticut’s elections infrastructure on April 21.The proposed spending will be to update and upgrade current technologies and systems, but will not have funding necessary to pay for expanded absentee ballot access.
Voters need to be able to securely request an absentee ballot online. For the People Act of 2021 requires that states facilitate absentee ballots to be requested online and through an automated telephone system. This will save voters time and prevent the risk of disenfranchisement by lost mail. It will also reduce the volume of physical mail processing required by absentee voting.
The “big lie” told by former President Trump, is just that, a lie. Voter fraud is incredibly rare, elections are not being stolen. Fraud is not a threat to our elections. Making it easier to vote will not delegitimize our elections, which are safe and secure. If anything, appropriations from the For the People Act will fund programs, policies, and technologies that will further secure our elections.
For the 2020 November Election all registered voters were able to vote absentee using the coronavirus pandemic as an acceptable excuse, and over a third of votes were cast this way. A record number of voters made their voices heard, with 79.7% of registered voters casting a ballot. More people participated in the electoral process when given the option to easily vote absentee. The popularity and education around voting absentee also led to a rejection rate roughly half that of recent state elections.
Provisions in the For the People Act, are federal policies that will help local and state elections run more smoothly. Passage of the For the People Act will positively effect elections in Connecticut, and the rest of the country. It will protect your right to vote and the rights of your neighbors. Of central importance to a democracy, the For the People Act will strengthen your ability to make your voice heard in Connecticut.
Elizabeth Rousseau is a junior double-majoring in Economics and Public Policy and Law at Trinity College. She is a deputy registrar of voters for the town of West Hartford.
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