Your vote or your life.
Sound extreme? It could come down to that. Medical experts warn the coronavirus pandemic could erupt in a second wave this fall with no vaccine yet available to halt it.
As a consequence, voting in the November election could pose a risk for many in Connecticut. For all the advances in multiple areas, our state is woefully behind the times with making it easier for people to vote.
Connecticut is one of only nine states in the country not to allow widespread mail-in ballots. The state constitution lays out the few reasons acceptable for voting by absentee ballot, such as military service. While the constitution cannot be changed in time for the election, a needlessly restrictive statute can be amended.
The constitution allows absentee ballots “due to sickness;” the related statute (CGS 9-3) dictates “his or her illness.”
When the General Assembly holds a special session this summer on budget matters, members must act to revise the statute.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently interpreted the statute to permit voters with “underlying risk factors relevant to COVID-19” to obtain an absentee ballot. In other words, they don’t have to actually be ill at the time.
This makes sense. But a legislative adjusting of the wording would lend permanency and should be done.
The coronavirus pandemic poses risk to in-person voting — for the voters as well as the poll workers, who often are retired — and necessary social distancing would slow the process, which could discourage those waiting in line.
But even in non-pandemic times, the state should be working to make it easier for people to participate in democracy and vote.
Two-thirds of the states allow no-excuse mail-in voting. Why not Connecticut?
Four-fifths of the states allow early voting. Why not Connecticut?
One concern is the possibility of fraud, but that is not borne out in the evidence in other states that have had more progressive voting for years, including five states that conduct elections entirely by mail.
Also, the technology involved with printing the ballots and envelopes reduces the possibility of fraud. But these must be ordered sufficiently in advance.
Merrill is proactively mailing applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters in the state, explaining her interpretation of the statute as it relates to the pandemic and health concerns.
Two Democratic state representatives, Matt Blumenthal of Stamford and Christine Palm of Chester, said last week they will push legislators to allow all voters to cast ballots by mail for the primaries and the Nov. 3 election. Fear of the virus could keep voters from the polls, they said.
Every election is important, but a presidential one even more so as the future direction of the country is at stake. Connecticut must ensure that citizens won’t have to choose between their vote and their health.