Voting Groups Pushing for Broader Access to Absentee Voting Amidst Pandemic

Voting groups are asking Gov. Ned Lamont sign an executive order expanding access to vote-by-mail for the upcoming August primaries.

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Various voting advocacy groups in Connecticut are asking Gov. Ned Lamont to sign an executive order allowing anyone in Connecticut to vote by mail amidst the pandemic.

"No one should have to choose between their health and voting," said Judy Lhamon with the League of Women Voters.

The date of the state's presidential primary has already been changed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic. It is now scheduled for August 11, the same day as the state primary. The voting groups are not asking for polls to be shutdown. They just want people to have the option of filling out an absentee ballot instead of going to the polls.

According to the State of Connecticut's website, the state has "strict" laws regarding who can vote absentee. Eligible voters have to meet one of six requirements to vote by mail.

Several groups, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause in Connecticut, the CT Citizens Action Group, and the New Britain Branch NAACP, signed a letter to Lamont asking for an executive order that would override those requirements.

“People should not have to put their lives on the line in order to vote," said Tom Swan with the CT Citizens Action Group.

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is also pushing for broader access to vote-by-mail amidst the pandemic. In addition to an executive order, she is pressing for more permanent changes.

Merrill explained in an op-ed Thursday that the legistlature could fix the problem by changing the language in the state's statute on absentee voting. According to the statute, one of the reasons that a person can be eligible to vote by mail is if he or she is unable to appear at a polling place due to "his or her illness."

Merrill is proposing that the legislature drop the words "his or her", allowing for "illness" to be more widely interpreted, including fear of having or getting an illness.

The idea was mentioned on a press call today hosted by Common Cause in Connecticut.

“That would give people an opportunity to say, 'No I am not going there. I am afraid,'" said Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director of Common Cause.

At an April 7 news conference, Lamont said that his team has been actively discussing ways to let people vote during the pandemic.

"Obviously voting by mail makes a lot of sense to me. Now I need the lawyers to figure out how to draft that," said Lamont.

Lamont added Thursday that he believes there should be some form of absentee balloting for the primary in August, especially for seniors who may still be under a stay home, stay safe order.

The Chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party is raising concerns about voter fraud and a lack of security in place to handle more voting by mail.

"They should be talking about how they are going to secure and protect against fraud," said J.R. Romano, chairman of the CT Republican Party.

Responding to a question Thursday about concerns of voter fraud, Quickmire explained that Common Cause is in favor of doing what it takes to make the process secure. She then went on to stress the need for broader absentee balloting access as the general election approaches and uncertainty looms over what the virus will look like come November.

"We cannot expect people to risk their health in order to cast their ballot," said Quickmire.

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