The push to expand voting capabilities in Connecticut is gaining momentum.
As an emergency measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in the 2020 election, the state legislature has essentially instituted no excuse for absence.
The move resulted in a record attendance and more than 650,000 absentee votes. It also caused people, such as lawmakers, activists and election officials, to not only question the future of the right to vote in Connecticut absence, but also to expand the right to vote in general.
Secretary of State Denise Merrill has said publicly that she & # 39; is more convinced than ever that providing more voting options for people is the way to go & # 39; and that she intends to change the propose a state constitution to allow voters to cast an absentee vote without excuse.
State Representative Christine Palm, D-Chester, serves on the Government Administration and Elections Committee of the Legislature and was part of a small group that compiled the language that enabled voters concerned about contracting COVID-19 to enter 2020 absentee votes.
That language had to be in accordance with the constitution of the state. Palm said she thinks Connecticut's voting laws would be much more progressive were it not for a constitutional change, and as a result a public referendum on any proposed change.
“It's much harder to change our voting laws in Connecticut than in most places, which is why they're so Byzantine,” Palm said. "They really need to be changed."
Palm agrees with Merrill that last year's extended absence vote should be the state's new standard. She said other reforms should also come.
“I would like to see not only unconditional absentee voting become a permanent fixture, but also go further to vote early, for example,” Palm said. She also advocated automatic voter registration.
Professor Mara Suttmann-Lea, Connecticut College Election, addressed some of the ideas that Palm put forward.
“Automatic vote registration is a promising reform. It essentially removes that first step in the voting process that can be tricky, ”she said. “Every time you interact with a government agency, as DMV is a classic example, you will be asked if you want to register to vote. It just happens automatically, and then residents can opt out if they don't want to be registered to to vote. "
Suttmann-Lea agreed with Palm, saying that setting an early vote in Connecticut would "take us into the 21st century."
& # 39; Connecticut already has an election day registry. There is quite compelling evidence that when you have both early vote and election day registration, they can do a lot to retain voters and drive new turnout, & # 39; & # 39; said Suttmann-Lea. "From the perspective of increasing access to ballots, the state has shown that it has the infrastructure to do something like extended postal voting quite well, even if they do it on the fly."
Deep River's Claire Walsh, who founded Democratic Women in Action, a group made up of residents of southeast Connecticut, does not view the issue of voting as an academic or abstract one; she sees it as human.
“As a social worker, I am well aware of the hardships of working-class families, families with young children, people who have to work different shifts, they don't necessarily work a 9-5 job, and I think there are more hardships in their daily lives if entirely, ”said Walsh. "I am determined to make voting as easy as possible so that the working class in our country feels stronger and knows their vote is important."
Walsh said her group had sent about 40,000 postcards to people across the country after determining that fighting against voter oppression would be one of the group's main goals. In October 2019, group members began sending postcards to states like Kentucky, Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Arizona to warn minority voters in rural areas that they may have been taken off the electoral roll.
Walsh, Palm and Suttmann-Lea all praised the high turnout in the 2020 general election and pointed it out as proof of the feasibility of expanding the right to vote.
Norwich Republican Clerk Dianne Slopak had a different view of the election.
& # 39; I think it was a nightmare, & # 39; said Slopak. “We had more than 5,000 (absent) ballots, normally we have maybe 500. To fix that, and then try to deal with the secretary of state, the governor and the legislature who have the rules every few weeks. changed, it was extremely frustrating for the town clerks and clerks. "
Norwich City Clerk Betsy Barrett said in November that if this year's experience of thousands of absent ballots becomes the norm in future elections, city and town clerks will have to plan for hiring additional staff or adding hours to the large number of absentee ballots. process ballots. requests and ballots as delivered. Slopak gave a similar assessment.
"It was crazy. It shouldn't be like this every year," said Slopak. "If they want to do what they want to do without excuse and vote early, they have to overhaul the system."
Slopak noted that absenteeism votes tend to be in favor of Democrats. Suttmann-Lea also touched on that perception. But, she said, it is possible that election reforms can help both sides.
"We are at an interesting crossroads because the Republicans did pretty well in down ball races this election," said Suttmann-Lea. Joe Biden won the presidency by a fairly wide margin, but the race was close in the major states. I think we've seen such a high turnout in this election, and one thing that's been key to President Trump's campaigns is that new voters are coming, so I feel like there's a possibility that these election can destroy the myth that high voter turnout benefits only Democrats. "
Suttmann-Lea also recognized the dilemma facing the state: While expanding the right to vote will lead to more votes, it will also lead to more work for election officials and numerous changes in the state's electoral governance. She was not surprised that election officials felt overburdened in recent elections.
"Anytime there is a particularly abrupt change in electoral processes, or in this case an increase in postal voting, it will place a greater burden on our local election officials," said Suttmann-Lea. “The simple answer is: more staff, more support, more funding. I think if it's something that voters want to keep using … it can't be an unfunded mandate. "
Slopak, Walsh, Palm, and Suttmann-Lea all said they expect at least extensive absenteeism rights in the future of Connecticut.
Walsh said she will continue to make efforts to encourage more voting rights in Connecticut.
“In Connecticut, we have a Democratic Governor, a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. This is the perfect storm situation, ”said Walsh. “This is the time we need to do it. We don't have to sit and guess, is this the right thing? Is this the right time? No, we can look at a month ago and see, "Yes, this is the right thing to do, this is the right time to do it," and we're going to get off our ass and get it done. & # 39; & # 39;
Incoming House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said this week that one of his priorities for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Wednesday, is to amend the state constitution to allow for early and no-excuse votes.
Palm said the drive to expand voting rights is a priority for her and others on the government and election committee.
"We will go for it as soon as possible," said Palm. “At the moment people are still thinking about their priorities. The committees haven't met yet, the seats haven't brought up their big topics, but I don't see this being referenced to the cabin of the train. "
. (tagsToTranslate) Election (t) Vote (t) Denise Merrill (t) Coronavirus