by Monte Frank, SAM-Connecticut Chair
It may surprise Connecticut residents to learn that our Nutmeg State is significantly more restrictive than Georgia in voting and ballot access — and that we lag behind many states when you consider photo ID requirements, early voting and closed-party primaries that disenfranchise 40 percent of the electorate.
Our nation’s history of voter suppression has been shamefully directed at people of color. It is troubling that more than 25 states have signed voter suppression bills into law since 2010 and that stricter voting restrictions accelerated after a 2013 Supreme Court ruling weakened the Voting Rights Act of 1965, legislation aimed at preventing discriminatory voting practices.
Although Connecticut has not affirmatively acted to suppress voting, it has steadfastly held onto its outdated and restrictive rules, which make it a backwater on voting and ballot access. For example, the Land of Steady Habits is one of a handful of states — including Mississippi and Alabama — that do not permit early voting (except for pandemics), and Connecticut’s photo ID requirements are more burdensome than many states’.
The General Assembly has consistently resisted common-sense 21st-century reforms that could increase voter participation. For example, it took years and a colossal effort for same-day voting registration to be implemented. In this very session, the Legislature refused to pass even a “study” bill on ranked-choice voting — an increasingly common voting reform that assures that elected officials have the support of the majority of voters.
While many in Connecticut rightfully criticized Georgia’s recent moves to restrict voting, our ire should also be directed our own house. For example, while Georgia reduced the number of days for early voting to 19, that is 19 more days than the zero days of early voting normally permitted in Connecticut. Connecticut also severely limits access to absentee ballots by requiring an excuse to vote absentee — like active military service, illness or a religious observance.
In Connecticut, it took a pandemic to temporarily allow no-excuse absentee voting. However, when the pandemic ends, so, too, will no-excuse absentee voting. The success of no-excuse absentee ballots in Connecticut in the 2020 election should provide lawmakers with all the proof needed to make no-excuse absentee ballots a permanent option for voters.
Fortunately, the Connecticut General Assembly is now considering three important measures. My group, SAM-CT (Serve America Movement-Connecticut), urges adoption of these three measures. They are House Joint Resolution 58, which would permit “no-excuse” absentee ballots; House Joint Resolution 59, which would permit early voting; and Senate Bill 820, which would establish a state voting rights act to prevent voter suppression and provide the state Attorney General with new enforcement authority.
Both joint resolutions would require an amendment to the state Constitution, and SAM-CT urges lawmakers to put them on the ballot as soon as November 2022. However, early voting and no-excuse absentee ballots must be just the beginning for Connecticut if the goal is to fix the broken political system.
That can be accomplished by enabling fair competition so the best and brightest can emerge victorious on Election Day. Unaffiliated voters, the largest voting bloc, should be allowed to vote in taxpayer-funded open primaries. Ranked-choice voting and open primaries must advance through the legislature and be brought to referendum for the people to decide. In New York City, ranked-choice voting passed in 2019 with 73.5 percent support and will be used in the upcoming mayoral primaries.
We must make no-excuse absentee balloting and early voting permanent options for Connecticut voters. Otherwise, we will continue to lag behind Georgia.