As campaign posters and television advertisements for candidates in this year’s gubernatorial campaign seek to sway voter opinions in the Elm City, some local leaders are drawing attention to other issues up for vote next week.
Mayor Toni Harp was joined by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, State Senator Martin Looney and Stamford Mayor David Martin for a press conference yesterday in front of a crowd of over 50 residents of Tower One/Tower East, an assisted living community space at 18 Tower Lane that houses over 300 senior citizens. Harp and other leaders encouraged city and state residents to vote in favor of the Connecticut Early Voting Amendment on Tuesday. If passed, the proposed measure would amend a provision in Connecticut’s state constitution that restricts the legislature in making voting reforms.
While the amendment does not guarantee changes to the voting format, speakers said that, if approved, the amendment would allow the general assembly to consider changes to voting laws, including pushing for expanding access to absentee ballots.
“I believe it’s time to extend voting rights of every eligible voter in Connecticut,” Harp said. “I also believe that opposition to extending voters’ rights has less to do with changes that would be considered and more to do with voter suppression.”
DeLauro followed Harp with an explanation of possible implications of approving the constitutional amendment.
She said that although many residents eligible to vote in Connecticut are unable to reach their polling places, they are not eligible for an absentee ballot under the state’s current laws.
“If the constitutional amendment passes, it will remove these restrictions from our Connecticut constitution,” DeLauro said. “Our general assembly … will be able to have greater authority to pass a law that allows voters to cast their ballot without having to appear at their polling place on election day.”
According to Merrill, approving the constitutional amendment could put Connecticut on track to allow residents to mail in votes early, leading to higher voter turnout.
But Merrill said approving the ballot measure does not guarantee that election reformers will change the state’s electoral process.
“If you vote yes, nothing changes immediately, because these laws are also in statute as well,” Merrill said.
According to Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University, changes to Connecticut’s absentee voting laws are unlikely to pass if the Republican candidate, Tom Foley, wins the gubernatorial race, considering these laws could boost democratic voter turnout. Indeed, experts say that election reform would most significantly improve voter turnout from young people, minorities and individuals with lower income and lower education — demographics that tend to vote Democratic.
DeLauro added that election reform could ease voting for parents, commuters that work out of state and students. However, she said she believes that election reform does not necessarily translate into higher turnout in support of the Democratic Party.
Others at the press conference echoed DeLauro’s sentiment. Martin Mador ’71 FES ’02, legislative and political chair for the Sierra Club — an environmental advocacy organization — said the proposed election reforms could, in fact, increase turnout for both parties.
Voters in Connecticut are eligible for an absentee ballot if they meet one of six criteria, including physical disability, absence from town during voting hours or religious restrictions.