Connecticut looks ready to reform the outdated way we vote in this state, and it’s about time. Thanks to a rigid constitution Connecticut has suffered long lines and overcrowded polling places, especially in urban areas, for too long. The rest of the country is moving ahead with voting reforms, and, after careful consideration of all the consequences, so should we.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill outlined her plans for voting reform in an editorial in the Hartford Courant last week, in which she called for a constitutional amendment to allow for early voting and no-fault absentee ballots. I couldn’t agree more. Early voting works, as successive elections in states all over the country have demonstrated, and a voting period that lasts up to a month before the official Election Day opens the doors to many people who might not have been able to vote before. People who might not be able to vote for a wealth of reasons, such as the examples Merrill gave of hurricane victims and first responders, would have other opportunities.
I had to be out of the state during the 2010 election and voted by absentee ballot. The experience was easy, fast, and surprisingly satisfying. I didn’t have to deal with any lines, nor did I have to try and carve some time out of my schedule to head to the local high school to vote. I never mind doing these things, for the record, but being able to sit at my kitchen table and fill out my ballot there was refreshing. It would also be amazing to have the ability to go to the polls on, say, a Saturday instead of waiting for Tuesday.
However, these voting reforms require us to take measures to ensure they work well. We would have to determine where and when to hold early voting, and we would have to staff these locations with well-trained workers. We’d also have to make sure that the cost of early voting is not shouldered exclusively by towns and cities. Other states hold early voting during the four or five weekends prior to the election, and some use experienced permanent staff instead of temporary poll workers at each location.
We also need to make sure early voting isn’t used as a political tool. The 2012 election saw curtailed early voting in some swing states thanks to Republicans hoping to swing the election their way. In fact, Florida’s record long lines and up to 200,000 citizens who decided not to vote because of those lines were caused in part by a sharp decrease in early voting days. Connecticut needs to make sure this doesn’t happen. Early voting days should be thoughtfully set and difficult to change once they’re in place.
Another thing we need to do to make early voting work is to reform our antiquated way of checking in voters once they arrive at the polls. Machines in use in other states since at least 2006 can let voters check themselves in, streamline the voting process, and reduce the need for poll workers. Right now, most locations in Connecticut still use huge printouts to check in voters and to give them the right ballots. The Secretary of the State’s office already is trying hard to drag reluctant local election officials into the 21st century; electronic check-in belongs with optical scan machines, early voting, and online results reporting.
Lastly, the state needs to do a better job of counting results in a timely fashion. Right now, the counting of absentee ballots is scheduled to begin between 10 a.m. and noon on Election Day itself. If we do approve no-fault absentee ballots, registrars could find themselves with a mountain to count and not enough time to do it in.
Common-sense voting reforms are the best way to ensure as many people as possible are able to vote, and they’ll make sure Connecticut stays with the rest of the country as voting and elections continue to change. The next step for an amendment to the state constitution allowing early voting and no-fault absentee ballots is approval in the legislature. If the amendment is approved by a 3/4 majority it’ll go to the voters in 2014, and by the time the next presidential election comes around in 2016, we’ll finally be ready.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.