When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down several key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, there was much talk from many in Connecticut about how the ruling opened the door to many forms of voter suppression across the country. In the years since, Republican elected officials in many states have indeed implemented a slew of draconian reforms that make voting harder in many areas. The pace has only increased since the 2020 election, as the pro-coup, Trumpist faction of the GOP takes over the party.
Connecticut voters have little to fear about many of these “reforms” vying to restrict the franchise, however. This is not because we have solid election laws and strong democratic supermajorities that will shield us from them, unfortunately, but because our election laws are much, much worse than those Republican officials are trying to dismantle elsewhere.
We already do voter suppression, and no one seems to care.
Consider, for instance, early voting. There are only six states in the country that do not offer pre-election day in-person voting options. Connecticut is amongst them, sharing the stage with Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Carolina like we were some sort of misplaced confederate state (the-always-peculiar New Hampshire is the other outlier). The list of states that do not offer no-excuse absentee voting (or send mail ballots by default to all voters) is not as embarrassingly small at fourteen, but we are still part of the making-voting-more difficult minority here.
The list of electoral embarrassments, of course, does not stop here. We have grown accustomed to election-day screw ups in Connecticut´s larger cities, but this does not make them any less acceptable. Be it malfunctioning machines in New Haven, ballot shortages in Bridgeport, or long lines in Hartford, we keep tolerating messy, erratic, clumsy election laws.
Some of these issues will be improving, albeit slowly, in the coming years. The lack of both early and no-excuse absentee voting comes from the 1965 State Constitution. The legislature, thankfully, voted to amend them in recent years, and early voting will be on the ballot this fall, while no-excuse absentee will be decided by voters in 2024.
There is very little reason, forever, for Connecticut to stop there. We can — and should — amend our laws to lift up our voting rules not just up to, say, 2020 Georgia standards, but to bring new voices and stronger political representation in state politics.
We can start by looking at places like Maine or Alaska that have implemented a system of ranked-choice voting (RCV) for state primary, congressional, and presidential elections. Under RCV, voters can choose who is their preferred candidate first, then list who would be their second, third, fourth, and subsequent choices as well. After an initial count, if no candidate wins an outright majority, votes cast for “losing” politicians (that is, those that placed last on the first round) get reassigned to the other candidates according to these second, third, and so on picks, until one gets over half the vote. RCV systems give voters both more choices and control over the outcome of the election, ensuring that those elected truly reflect the will of the electorate. Although it does make counting votes a bit more challenging, I’ll gladly wait a bit longer to know the election results in exchange for better representation.
Another reform the state should consider is granting non-citizens the right to vote in local and state elections. New York City just passed a law granting suffrage to green card holders and DACA recipients, so our state will not be the first jurisdiction to implement these policies. In fact, this would be a return to what Connecticut used to allow in the early years of the Republic, as non-citizens had the right to vote in our state until 1819, when it was abolished in reaction to the war of 1812. Non-citizen voting was common across the country for much of the 19th century, and it did not fully disappear in places like Kansas, Indiana, or Texas until World War I or shortly after. The last state to abolish the practice was Arkansas, in 1926. In other words, there is plenty of precedent to go around.
More importantly, non-citizen voting makes sense on purely democratic grounds. Non-citizens pay taxes like everyone else, but they lack any meaningful political representation. Connecticut has more than a quarter of a million non-citizens residents, or 7% of the population; over half of them, legal residents. This share is considerably higher in places like New Haven, where one in six voting-age residents has no say on who will run the city. Connecticut cannot grant these voters a say on federal elections (the law excluding them there passed all the way back in 1996), but we can (and should!) do it for our own elections.
Making democracy stronger by ensuring more people have a say in our government should be a no-brainer. Candidates for Secretary of the State should take notice as we head to the November elections.