Opinion: Act swiftly to make early voting a reality

Mar 27, 2023

In a piece published by the Connecticut Post, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation President & CEO Mendi Blue Paca discusses early voting in Connecticut, which was approved by voters in November 2022 and is currently on the agenda for state lawmakers.

While states such as Texas and Georgia have made headlines in recent years for what many view as curtailing voting rights and access, the reality is that Connecticut has long had some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country.

Last November, Connecticut voters took a big step toward addressing that issue, approving a ballot measure to institute early voting as well as some other reforms that aim to simplify the registration and voting process.

Yet while the ballot measure opened the door to early voting, it did not specify how it will happen, or how the necessary changes will be funded.

That job now rests squarely with Connecticut lawmakers who are responsible for assuring the will of the people is honored at upcoming elections. Also on lawmakers’ agenda is a resolution that would allow for no-excuse absentee voting, a practice that is commonplace in the majority of U.S. states.

We were encouraged to see the Government Administration and Elections Committee recently vote several early voting bills out of committee — a signal that lawmakers are acting with urgency on this issue.

And urgency is essential as this is vital work for our elected representatives, particularly amid the gnawing mistrust and misinformation around the integrity of elections across the country. The expectation of voters will be that the reforms they supported will be in place when the time comes for them to cast their ballots.

Beyond that, the increased accessibility and options that will be created by instituting these reforms will help assure that every voter has ample opportunity to cast their vote.

Under our current restrictive voting systems, citizens are often required to take off work or juggle primary responsibilities in order to show up in person on Election Day to vote. I think we all can agree that the decision on whether or not an individual’s voice will be heard should not rest on getting someone to cover their shift at work or lining up and paying for childcare on a certain day.

As the leader of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, I submitted testimony to the Government Administration and Elections Committee to urge swift funding and implementation of early voting for certain elections in 2023 and primary elections in early 2024. It is essential that Connecticut have a seamless early voting process in place for the pivotal presidential election in November 2024.

Specifically, I urged the legislature to allocate the resources that municipalities need to hire additional staff, provide training, and meet other expenses related to early voting.

I also emphasized the bill’s requirement that the Secretary of State undertake efforts to educate the public about early voting and train registrars of voters regarding the administration of early voting.

Finally, I voiced support for the state Senate and House of Representatives to pass a resolution to approve an amendment to the state constitution that would allow no-excuse early voting.

This type of voting is standard practice in many states across the country, with more than 30 states offering no-excuse absentee voting or conducting elections entirely by mail. There is no justifiable reason why Connecticut cannot do the same.

My advocacy on these issues is consistent with the foundation’s ongoing efforts to support civic participation and resident engagement. Of particular focus is our strategic priority on building power and amplifying the voices of those most impacted by inequities and injustices in our current system.

To that end, last fall we launched a get-out-the-vote campaign focused on educating and engaging as many residents as possible in Fairfield County about the importance of voting and the integrity of our election system. A key aim of that campaign was to empower individuals, particularly those who have previously yet to participate in the political process to make a plan to ensure they have a say in who represents them and their community.

As the Constitution State, Connecticut has played a vital role in American democracy since our nation’s founding. State lawmakers have the opportunity to further that legacy by acting swiftly to expand voting opportunities for all of our citizens.

The votes are in.

Now it is time to finish the job.

Mendi Blue Paca is president and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.

– This article was originally published on ctpost.com on March 24, 2023.