The Small Details of Voting


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This past election, Connecticut voters approved, by an overwhelming majority, a constitutional amendment that will authorize early voting in our state.

This was a long overdue change. The US stands among a small minority of countries (alongside Canada and the UK; this seems to be an English-speaking eccentricity) that do not hold their elections on a weekend or consider them an official holiday. We stand almost alone in this somewhat antiquated, slightly bizarre tradition of forcing people to take time off work to cast their ballots.

This, of course, is not always practical for many voters, especially those that have unpredictable schedules and might be called for a last-minute shift, lack reliable transportation, or just need to work and cannot take time off at all. If we believe that giving everyone a strong voice in our political system, setting random institutional roadblocks on their way to the polls seems a bad idea.

Most states in the country realized long ago that limiting voting hours to the Tuesday after the first Monday in November is a problem, so they instituted early voting. Connecticut was one of only four states that did not give the option to vote early, alongside New Hampshire, Alabama, and Mississippi. After November’s passage of the constitutional amendment, we will be able to ensure that everyone who wants to participate in our democracy can do it; being at work, taking care of a relative, or out of state on election day will no longer be an impediment.

As with many issues regarding policy, however, implementation matters a great deal. The amendment simply authorized state authorities to have early voting, but for it to be useful, we need to make sure that the polls open early in a meaningful way. It is not just about being able to vote early; we need to make sure that there are enough polling locations, so access is not restricted to those that have a car. And, above all, we need to make sure that people can vote on their day off, meaning that we have early voting on Saturdays and Sundays, not just workdays.

This might seem obvious, but Connecticut municipalities have a long, proud tradition of taking statutes they dislike and implementing them in the most lackadaisical, counterproductive way they can. Towns love making trivial things like enabling beach access for non-residents pretty much impossible, as anyone that has tried to get a beach pass to some wealthy shoreline towns can attest. Many local governments do their absolute best to prevent anyone from building affordable housing anywhere in town and are willing to drag anyone to court until they give up, no matter what the statutes say.  Any early voting legislation should clearly and plainly state when and where early voting should take place and include the necessary funding, staff support and training, and resources to ensure that municipalities can have voting machines at the ready for voters.

Elections are important, so we also should strive to do more than the bare minimum. We need to ensure that voting machines are up to date and well maintained, and we need to update and improve how votes are reported. Countries around the world manage to have close to final election results before midnight on election day; even Florida, after their 2000 debacle, has managed to put together an election system that has everyone counted shortly after the vote. And (this is my inner election nerd speaking) let’s have a good, solid website where we can have election results by precinct, data that is easy to download, and that looks like it was coded sometime after 1998.

As we look at taking steps to improve our election system for the next cycle, let’s have a good look at how we vote. This means a good early voting process, and the resources attached to ensure everyone can make it work.