Denise Merrill (opinion): It’s time for CT to say ‘yes’ to early voting

Absentee ballot boxes.

Absentee ballot boxes.

Hearst Connecticut Media

It’s no secret that numerous states are actively taking steps to impede voting access for millions of Americans, which will discourage voting, create more bureaucratic barriers, and depress voter turnout. In recent years Connecticut has taken a different and better path — rightly addressing restrictive laws and making voting easier for all eligible Connecticut citizens. As Connecticut’s former secretary of the state, it was my sworn duty to safeguard and expand the right to vote, which is why I am both very proud of the progress our state has made, but also keenly aware that we have more work to do.

Connecticut is one of only four states — along with Alabama, Mississippi, and New Hampshire — that require all voters to vote in person in a polling place on Election Day unless they present a specific reason why they cannot appear. There is no reason Connecticut citizens shouldn’t have the same opportunities to vote that citizens in neighboring states and the vast majority of Americans have.

It is far past time for Connecticut to enact early voting, making it easier and more convenient for workers, parents, commuters, the disabled, seniors, and every eligible voter to engage in democracy. Thankfully, voters will now have the chance to make this change — at the ballot box this November.

On each ballot this fall, a question will appear as follows: “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?”

There will only be two options: yes or no. I am urging every Connecticut voter to take this incredible opportunity to support democracy, support their fellow voters of all parties, and vote “YES.”

This is not the first time Connecticut voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to allow for early voting; In 2014, an early voting ballot measure was narrowly defeated in part because of confusing language and insufficient education on what the measure would mean. We now have a second chance to expand voting access so every eligible voter who wants to vote can do so safely, securely, and conveniently.

In 2016 a third of voters, almost 50 million people nationwide, voted early; in 2020, those numbers had grown to more than 100 million people voting early representing more than two thirds of the total votes cast.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it exposed the fundamental inflexibility of our election system. My office worked with all 169 towns in Connecticut to ensure that every voter who wanted to vote could do so securely and safely in the way that best suited their lifestyle, work schedule, and health conditions. The result was a resounding success. More than 1.8 million people — a record number of Connecticut voters - cast ballots in November and more than 650,000 of them chose to vote by absentee ballot — 35 percent of total votes cast.

This record number of voters underscores the fact that when people can vote conveniently and do not have to alter their lives to physically be somewhere between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. on one weekday in November, more people will be able to — will choose to — engage in democracy and take the patriotic action to vote.

Let me be clear: this is not a partisan issue. Early voting is popular across the political spectrum. Despite a highly polarized electorate, 79 percent of Connecticut voters support early voting and 73 percent of Connecticut voters support expanding access to absentee ballots to all voters without requiring an excuse.

When this amendment passes, we can begin the conversation of how to best implement these election reforms so that our democracy is truly participatory. But to get there, we have to amend our state constitution in support of these rights and these ideals. When it when comes to early voting, we need to vote “yes” this November!

Denise Merrill is Connecticut’s former secretary of the state.