The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit on July 2, 2020, seeking to make absentee mail-in voting available to every eligible voter during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit, Connecticut NAACP v Merrill, was filed on behalf of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches and the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, as well as an individual Connecticut resident who requires a safe alternative to voting in-person during COVID-19 because her age places her at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Despite the fact that the pandemic rages on and over 45,000 Connecticut residents have contracted COVID-19 so far — including over 4,300 deaths — the state has retained one of the most restrictive mail voting systems in the nation for the November general election.
Most states allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot, but Connecticut requires that voters provide an excuse to do so. While Secretary of State Denise Merrill expanded absentee ballot access for the August primary under executive order from Gov. Ned Lamont, she has failed to do so for the November general election, meaning the vast majority of voters would be forced to vote in-person — or avoid voting at all for fear of becoming ill, disenfranchising tens of thousands — because they did not meet one of Connecticut’s narrow requirements to vote by mail.
Those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, including people with certain preexisting medical conditions and older people, are not currently eligible to vote absentee in November unless they are “ill” or have a physical disability at the time of their ballot request. Connecticut voters without preexisting conditions who are nonetheless rightfully concerned about COVID-19 transmission are also unable to vote using the absentee process for the November election.
The impact, the lawsuit notes, falls especially heavily on Black voters, who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic: “Connecticut’s history of discrimination against Black people, as well as continuing discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and health care, interacts with Connecticut’s narrow absentee voting requirements to hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”