As the effects of coronavirus pandemic continue to reverberate through communities across the country, many Americans are calling for safer ways to vote during this election year. Indeed, the CDC continues to encourage  everyone to stay at home when possible, keep space between yourself and others and to avoid sick people. So, finding alternatives to voting in person is wise.
Even though Gov. Ned Lamont’s new executive order provides all Connecticut voters eligibility for an absentee ballot for the state’s August primary election, it still does not ensure that they can vote safely in the November general election. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill was proactive in mailing all voters absentee ballot applications, but come November, many may not qualify to receive an absentee ballot.
In addition, many contend that the governor’s actions are still temporary and can be subject to change under future executives in similar situations. To ensure voters can easily obtain absentee ballots for this election and future ones, the Connecticut General Assembly must pass legislation amending the present laws.
As it currently stands, Connecticut voters must provide an excuse that falls under the state’s standard rules. Acceptable reasons for receiving an absentee ballot include being out of the country on election day, suffering from an illness or disability, and being an election worker or poll watcher. Gov. Lamont’s executive order expanded the definition of “illness.” It states: “… an eligible elector may vote by absentee ballot … if he or she is unable to appear at his or her polling place during the hours of voting because of the sickness of COVID-19 … if, at the time he or she applies for or casts an absentee ballot for the August 11, 2020 primary election, there is no federally approved and widely available vaccine for prevention of COVID-19.”
Connecticut must ensure that absentee voting is available to all Connecticut voters. Indeed, the last thing Connecticut should do is repeat the Wisconsin debacle. There, the government went forward with in-person voting as the default option, and as many as 7,000 election workers  said they would not show up to the polls for fear of contracting the virus. To date, the Wisconsin Department of Health has reported 36 coronavirus  cases connected to voters or poll workers.
A handful of critics on the right have pushed back, arguing that voting by mail would favor Democrats over Republicans, but that is simply not true. In 2013, when Colorado switched all elections to vote by mail, voters elected Republican Cory Gardner  to the United States Senate the next year. Even ruby-red Utah automatically mails a ballot  to every registered voter, and President Donald Trump was able to carry the state by double digits  in 2016.
Detractors have also argued that voting by mail could lead to widespread fraud, but real-life examples suggest otherwise. Oregon has conducted elections almost solely through the mail for over two decades and has only had two proven cases of absentee voter fraud out of tens of millions of votes, according to the Heritage Foundation. Nationally, cases of ballot harvesting are scarce with only five cases occurring between 1982 to 2020. The Connecticut State Elections Office can ensure security by keeping voter registration rolls clean, tracking ballots via barcodes, and verifying signatures on ballots.
Absentee voting is a safe and secure way to vote that 67 percent of the nation favors. Five states already allow people to automatically vote by mail, and 29 don’t require an excuse for voters to request a ballot in the mail. Unfortunately, Connecticut does not fall into either of those categories.
Times like this are a good opportunity for leaders to examine policies that can remove barriers, not create more. The Secretary of the State and the governor’s actions are a good start, but they are temporary. The state legislature needs to take action to allow Connecticut voters to request and cast an absentee ballot.
- “CDC continues to encourage”: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html
- “7,000 election workers”: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/02/us/politics/wisconsin-election-coronavirus.html
- “36 coronavirus”: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/27/wisconsin-tested-positive-coronavirus-election-211495
- “Republican Cory Gardner”: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/10/us/politics/vote-by-mail.html
- “mails a ballot”: https://thefulcrum.us/voting/vote-at-home
- “double digits”: https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2016/results/utah