Known as the “land of steady habits,” Connecticut represents a microcosm of the racist legacy of voter suppression nationwide — but that might change soon.
While some people think of Connecticut as progressive, in truth, we’re behind on protecting the right to vote: Connecticut is one of only four states that does not have in-person early voting, one of only 15 states without no-excuse absentee voting, and is in the bottom half of states for individual voters when it comes to our personal costs, in time and effort, for us to vote. All of this is a vestige of Connecticut’s long, racist history of trying to restrict Black, Indigenous, and Puerto Rican voters’ power — our state shamefully was the creator of literacy tests.
Like most states, though, Connecticut also has a proud history of voters, led by voters of color, fighting for better access to the ballot box. In the past five years alone, Connecticut has banned prison gerrymandering and restored the right to vote for people on parole.
This year, the state is poised to pass a bill implementing early voting. Given Connecticut’s sordid history of voter suppression, this would be an historic move.
In 2022, Connecticut voters overwhelmingly voted for a ballot question that allows the legislature to pass a law removing the barrier to early voting from the state Constitution. Ultimately, early voting was more popular than any candidate for statewide or congressional office and than the majority of contested state legislative candidates. Now, legislators in the Senate must pass a bill before them that lays out the logistics of how early voting will work, including the days, hours, and locations for early voting. The House of Representatives passed the bill last week.
Early voting won’t solve all of our challenges, but it is a critical step toward making sure our democracy includes all voters.
In our state and across the nation, voting on Election Day is easy for many people, but not for everyone. Voters are busy — especially those of us who have historically been excluded from flexing our power at the polls: working people, especially working parents; voters of color; voters with disabilities; elderly voters; LGBTQ voters; women; and people at the intersections of these identities. Because of interlocking systems of injustice, many would-be voters have very little predictably-scheduled, paid, free time off and often face long lines on Election Day.
Early voting would give more voters the flexibility we need to cast our ballots on the day or time that works for us and our families. That’s why we’re asking the Connecticut General Assembly to pass a bill that includes at least 14 days of early voting in the 30 days before Election Day; at least one Saturday and one Sunday of early voting; early voting hours that include evenings and early mornings; and accessible, equitably distributed early voting polling locations.
The majority (52 percent) of Connecticut voters of color say they would vote early at least sometimes if given the option, and 65 percent of Black voters say they would vote early, according to a poll conducted on behalf of the ACLU of Connecticut Rise PAC. When asked why they would vote earlyConnecticut voters of color mentioned work or family obligations, being unable to make it to the polls on Election Day, a need for flexibility, and long lines on Election Day.
“A lot of us older people, it’s hard to get around,” a voter in Waterbury added. “Health issues and others hamper our way.” These stories are not unique. When we knocked on more than 1,000 doors ahead of last November’s early voting ballot question, we heard time and again how people want to vote, but need to work, take care of family members, and don’t have the luxury of waiting in long lines.
Expanding our options to include early voting is particularly important for pushing back against the shameful history of the government-sanctioned suppression of Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, working class, and disabled voters.
Because of systemic racism, the government often under-resources Black and Latinx voting precincts, leading to especially long wait times. In Connecticut, for instance, voters in majority Black areas wait, on average, more than 9 minutes longer than voters in majority white neighborhoods. Early voting could help ease the congestion on Election Day by giving people the chance to vote on other days.
Nationwide, almost half of all LGBTQ+ voters (46%), more than six in 10 trans voters, and nearly three in four BIPOC trans voters (71%) have been barred from voting in at least one election because of barriers such as inconvenient polling times and locations or childcare responsibilities. Early voting would offer more flexibility for people to vote at the time that works for them and their family.
People who are low income are more likely to work in jobs without paid time off or predictable work schedules, making early voting critical for working people to cast our ballots at a time that fits our schedules.
During the 2020 election, disabled voters were almost twice as likely to experience barriers to voting compared to nondisabled voters. Early voting would give disabled voters more opportunity to use the voting option that best meets their needs.
Democracy shouldn’t be a luxury, and our democracy is strongest when it fully reflects our communities. Early voting won’t solve all of our challenges, but it is a critical step toward making sure our democracy includes all voters.
We implore the Senate to pass early voting without delay. Our democracy will be so much stronger because of it.