Connecticut: Combating voter suppression begins at home

In this Thursday, March 25, 2021 file photo, State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, is placed into the back of a Georgia State Capitol patrol car after being arrested by Georgia State Troopers at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta. Cannon was arrested by Capitol police after she attempted to knock on the door of the Gov. Brian Kemp office during his remarks after he signed into law a sweeping Republican-sponsored overhaul of state elections. The Fulton County District attorney won’t prosecute Cannon, announced Wednesday, April 7, 2021, who was arrested for knocking on the governor’s door during a voting bill signing. Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File.

Noah Frank is a junior at UConn with a double major in political science and economics.

Voting means many things to many people.  

For some, it is a civic duty, cherished as one of the ways that we can shape the world as we see fit. For others, it is a safeguard of ideals to preserve systems, or a mechanism to introduce completely new ones. Above all else, voting remains the critical measurement of the health of democracy as we know it. Yet, here in Connecticut, recent proposals that came before the General Assembly this year should remind us why we must never take the ease with which we vote for granted. 

As a vehicle for change, voting has delivered. It is an idea deeply intertwined with the founding of our nation, and is a conduit for progress in an ever-changing world.  Our ability to vote has gradually expanded through immense strife and struggle spanning many generations to better reflect the ideas of this great nation. 

Although there is voting access, there are some who feel threatened by a healthy, well-functioning democracy. These people spout conspiracies of fraud andimpropriety,  claims that cast a blanket of doubt on the legitimacy of our entire electoral system. While the United States endures a raging pandemic, recent headlines have brought another insidious and deeply-ingrained disease to light: voter suppression. 

On March 25, 2021, national headlines were flooded with news that the infamous Election Integrity Act of 2021 was signed into Georgia law by Republican Governor Brian Kemp. After the Peach State unexpectedly flipped blue, both in its 2020 presidential count and its two Senate seats, the suppressive partisan forces came out of the woodwork to prevent such an event from happening again. This act, among other things, limits access and erects more identification barriers to receiving absentee ballots, and even criminalizes distributing water bottles to voters waiting in lines at polling places.  

As explained by the Center for Science and Democracy, most changes to electoral law that have occurred in the last century have expanded the ability of citizens to participate in our elections. In 1920, the franchise was expanded to women in the 19th Amendment. Throughout the 1960s, constitutional amendments and pivotal legislation banned restrictions that targeted the political participation of African Americans nationwide.  

Most of today’s voter suppression is comprised of deceitful state regulations and legislation intended to deepen chaos, confusion and distrust amongst average voters. Photo ID laws, changes in polling place access and early deadlines for registration have made it significantly more difficult for Americans to participate in their democracy. Many of these proposals are introduced under the guise of combatting “fraud,” a largely debunked narrative still promulgated by major news sources, and their ramifications disproportionately affect this country’s most deprived communities. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of March 24, approximately 361 bill concepts were proposed across 47 states consisting of these restrictions. 

In recent years, Connecticut has taken proud steps to combat voter suppression and expand ballot access. In 2012, the state enacted Election Day Registration, which allows voters to register in a centralized location within their town or city on the day of an election and vote. Proposals to amend the State Constitution to allow for early voting have continually been raised in legislative chambers for consideration, and leadership, both on the Government Administrations and Election Committee and from Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, have pushed Connecticut policy to expand ballot access in meaningful ways. 

Even still, this year 11 bills were initially proposed to Connecticut’s General Assembly that the Brennan Center deemed suppressive or restrictive in nature. These proposals included adding photo ID requirements (Connecticut currently does not require a photo ID) and eliminating Election Day Registration outright. Most of these received little support on the GAE Committee, if they managed to garner a vote at all. 

Despite being in a progressive state for voting policy, we must not forget that these proposals, even if not formally advanced, have the potential to cause significant damage to our institutions. In order to protect our democracy, we have to fight to keep it, both in Georgia and in Connecticut. In the years to come, there will continue to be proposals for subtle rollbacks and infringements upon the ability of our citizens to vote.  

Therefore, we must continue to testify and strive to support the free expression of all Connecticut voters to exercise their civic duty unimpeded. Voting should not be a partisan issue, and making it so undermines the very mission of representative government. Connecticut must advance protections for no-excuse absentee ballot voting, implement greater automatic voter registration and send a clear message to our voters that, above all else, their voices will be heard. 

This year, the Connecticut General Assembly has the ability to determine our state’s way forward for years to come. It is imperative for the health of our democracy that we keep our elections free, open and, most importantly, fair. 

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