We want a government that hears and acts upon the voice of the people. In our democracy, this translates in ensuring that as many people as possible go to the polls to vote in every election.
Voter participation, then, should be one of the goals of our electoral system – meaning we want to make sure that everyone that wants to vote can do it, legally and safely, without having to face any unnecessary hoops or barriers.
As a proud, progressive New England state, many in Connecticut believe that we have this voting thing sorted out. We are in the North; voter suppression and arbitrary, racist voting rules happen in other places, not here. We are nice and our elections work.
The truth is that Connecticut’s election laws are woefully outdated and need to be fixed as soon as possible.
Take early voting, for instance. There are only five states in the country that do not have any kind of no-excuse early voting system in place in the election laws. Our state constitution unusually places strict rules to when an absentee or early ballot might be cast. Although the global pandemic opened the door to an almost universal absentee ballot program in 2020, these were quite extraordinary circumstances. The state legislature cannot approve any legislation that would facilitate early voting in all future elections, as it would obviously run afoul of its own state constitution.
This means that this November we will only be able to either vote in person, on a Tuesday, during the workday, or we will need to do the fairly involved procedure required to file for an absentee ballot. The requirements this year are not onerous (not being in town during any part of election day is enough) but still involve two stages of paperwork. We want to make voting easy, not hard, and we lag behind forty-five other states and the District of Columbia in lowering this barrier.
The good news is that, after years of campaigning and politicking, the General Assembly finally passed a constitutional amendment allowing early voting in our state. It will change three articles of our state constitution (III, IV, and VI, for those playing constitutional bingo at home) to allow legislation enabling in-person early voting across the state, for every election and every office. As a result, voters will be able to go to the polls when they have a day off or have time to spare; no more having to schedule their vote around their work on election day. The long lines early in the morning and midafternoon could be mostly gone, as well as the many, many voters that just cannot take part in the election as they are busy in one way or another that random Tuesday in November when we happen to have an election.
That is, if the voters approve the amendment, as it will be on the ballot this fall. Our state constitution requires voters to vote on any constitutional change, so it will be the job of all of us, voters across the state, to lend a hand in support of those that will not be voting in that election and beyond. It is certainly a good reform, and we would really encourage everyone to vote for it.
If voters approve the reform, however, our work would not be quite done. The amendment does enable early voting, but Connecticut will not be able yet to adopt the gold standard of a welcoming election system, universal, no-excuse, automatic mail-in ballots. Universal mail ballots have been in use for several years in many Western states (Colorado, Washington, California, Oregon), and truly make voting seamless across the board. Everyone gets a ballot at home, and everyone can vote by mail, at their convenience, without having to file applications or deal with polling locations.
That is the next constitutional amendment in the works in our state, and one that we should aspire to. For now, however, enabling early voting will make a significant difference ensuring everyone will have their voices heard at the ballot box. Let’s start there.