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Early voting system must be equitable, inclusive, accessible

- By Jess Zaccagnino Jess Zaccagnino is the policy counsel for the ACLU of Connecticu­t, which defends, promotes, and expands the civil rights and civil liberties of all people in Connecticu­t through community organizing, legislativ­e advocacy, and civic educ

This session, the Connecticu­t General Assembly will consider how to make the voters’ vision for early voting a reality. When they do, it is worth rememberin­g that early voting was more popular with Connecticu­t voters, in percentage support, than any candidate for statewide or congressio­nal office on the ballot here in 2022, as well as the majority of victors in contested races for the legislatur­e.

Voters have given our elected officials a clear mandate to make voting more accessible, equitable and inclusive.

To accomplish this, our state should codify at least 14 days of early voting in at least the 30 days before Election Day, including at least one Saturday and one Sunday, with consistent hours that include options outside of a 9-5 work schedule, and equitable distributi­on of locations — and those are the minimum requiremen­ts.

This fall, the ACLU of Connecticu­t Rise PAC knocked on more than 1,000 doors and spoke with voters across Connecticu­t about early voting. It’s clear that this type of accessible early voting system is what they had in mind in November. When asked why they would vote early, if allowed, Connecticu­t voters mentioned things like work schedules, childcare, long lines on Election Day, disability and age, and transporta­tion challenges.

“I would vote early because I may not have a way or time to vote on the typical day,” said one voter in Hamden.

“I wouldn’t have to take a day off, or stay in a long line. If I can vote earlier I would go at a more convenient time,” said another voter in Bridgeport.

“A lot of us older people, it’s hard to get around. Health issues and others hamper our way,” a voter in Waterbury said.

Our early voting system should not duplicate the barriers of Election Day itself. Instead, early voting options must reflect the needs of all busy Connecticu­t voters. Voting on Election Day is easy for some voters, but not all, for example, for example: people who work, especially working parents, people who work multiple jobs, and people with unpredicta­ble work schedules; elderly and disabled voters; Black and Latinx voters; LGBTQ voters; and women. For these and other voters, getting to the polls on a single Tuesday can be difficult and at times impossible.

Having more days to choose from, spread out over time and including weekends, would make the ballot box more accessible.

Voters need the option to vote on multiple days of the week, so we are no longer dependent on our availabili­ty on a single Tuesday. We need the ability to vote on weekends, so we have the chance to turn out if our weekdays are too complicate­d. We need options to vote early in the evenings and mornings, so those of us who cannot get to the polls during the day still have the option to vote early. And we need early voting locations to be equitably distribute­d, so each of us, no matter where we live, has at least one early voting location we can actually use.

Yet some elected officials are already talking about limiting early voting to a handful of days. In fact, one bill already introduced this session would give Connecticu­t voters only two days of early voting — putting us dead last among states with early voting. Nationwide, among the 46 other states that have early voting, the average number of early voting days is 23, and the average start date for early voting is 30 days before Election Day.

Among states with early voting, the lowest number of early voting days is three, which means any Connecticu­t lawmakers looking at only two, three, or five days of early voting would be proposing our state remains at the bottom of the barrel for access to the ballot box.

The majority of states with lower numbers of early voting days also often have more expansive forms of absentee balloting available compared to Connecticu­t. We do not have no-excuse absentee voting as an option for all voters, meaning proposals looking at fewer early voting days would also mean longer early voting lines and wait times. More early voting days would ultimately mean less pressure on workers and would-be voters, by creating less congestion not only on Election Day but on early voting days, too.

While some legislator­s have cited cost as a reason for limiting early voting to some of the lowest number of days in the country, it is also worth keeping in mind that doing so would mean voters continue bearing the costs of a less accessible ballot box. Connecticu­t is the 20th most expensive state in the country, between Georgia and Louisiana, in terms of the cost to individual voters, in time and effort, for us to vote. Early voting is a way of reducing the personal costs that voters here already, unnecessar­ily, face.

Connecticu­t voters have spoken. Now, it’s up to legislator­s to make Connecticu­t voters’ vision for early voting a reality, by ensuring early voting is accessible and inclusive, not just available to the fortunate and few.

 ?? Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Stickers await voters on Election Day at Foran High School, in Milford, last year.
Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Stickers await voters on Election Day at Foran High School, in Milford, last year.

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