UPDATE: Recent action from the Connecticut state legislature and Secretary of State expands voting-by-mail in the state, automatically mailing absentee ballot applications to every registered voter and allowing voters to cite fear of COVID-19 as a reason to receive an absentee ballot. Both actions had been subject of the lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, and an individual Connecticut resident last July. As a result of these expansions, these groups filed a voluntary motion to dismiss their case.
HARTFORD, CT—Today, the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, and an individual Connecticut resident filed a federal lawsuit seeking to make mail-in voting available to every eligible Connecticut voter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 remains a threat, and it is critical that our fall elections are carried out in a way that assures voters and election workers can participate safely, which means Connecticut must have absentee vote-by-mail available for everyone in November,” said Carol Reimers, president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut. “Many of our state’s citizens rely on and trust the nonpartisan voting and election information provided by the League of Women Voters of Connecticut. In order to fulfill our educational mission, we need to be able to distribute to voters accurate information well in advance of elections, including information about absentee voting by mail.”
The lawsuit was filed with representation by The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Connecticut. LWV and NAACP are joined in the case by an individual Connecticut resident who requires a safe alternative to voting in-person during COVID-19 because her age places her at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Despite the fact that the pandemic rages on and over 45,000 Connecticut residents have contracted COVID-19—including over 4,300 deaths so far—the state has retained one of the most restrictive mail voting systems in the nation for the November general election.
“We’ve learned the lesson of unsafe voter access during COVID-19 from state primaries around the country. Whenever voters are forced to choose between their health and their right to vote, our democracy is weakened,” said Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Connecticut must expand its vote-by-mail so that all eligible voters are protected—especially Black and Brown voters, who are most affected by this pandemic.”
Most states allow any eligible voter to cast an absentee ballot, but Connecticut requires that voters provide an excuse to do so. While Secretary of State Denise Merrill expanded absentee ballot access for the August primary under executive order from Governor Ned Lamont, she has failed to do so for the November general election, meaning the vast majority of voters would be forced to vote in-person — or avoid voting at all for fear of becoming ill, disenfranchising tens of thousands — because they did not meet one of Connecticut’s narrow requirements to vote by mail.
“The Black Community has been hit the hardest in the state by COVID-19 by devastating our people’s health and finances, and now it seems we will be hit the hardest politically in the state of Connecticut if there are not protections put in place for voting rights in November. We need to do everything possible to prevent a huge political catastrophe in November, and that means making sure people are able to vote in a safe manner,” said Scot X. Esdaile, President of the Connecticut NAACP State Conference.
Those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, including people with certain preexisting medical conditions and older people, are not currently eligible to vote absentee in November unless they are “ill” or have a physical disability at the time of their ballot request. Connecticut voters without preexisting conditions who are nonetheless rightfully concerned about COVID-19 transmission and its consequences are also unable to vote using the absentee process for the November election.
“Connecticut is in the midst of a deadly pandemic and will be for the foreseeable future. The state should act now to make mail-in voting accessible for all eligible voters throughout 2020. It is a common-sense solution that will protect people’s health and their right to vote,” said Davin Rosborough, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.
“Connecticut has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in Black and Latinx communities, and the hard truth remains that no one knows when this public health crisis will end. A crowded polling place can threaten people’s rights to vote during normal times, and it could threaten their right to vote and their health during a pandemic. Connecticut must expand absentee vote-by-mail to include all eligible voters for November,” said Dan Barrett, legal director for the ACLU of Connecticut.
These consequences, the lawsuit notes, fall especially heavily on Black voters in Connecticut, who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The lawsuit notes that “Connecticut’s history of discrimination against African Americans, as well as continuing discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and healthcare, interacts with Connecticut’s narrow absentee voting requirements to hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
The lawsuit is Connecticut NAACP v. Merrill.
CONTACT: Kayla Vix | 202-809-9668 | [email protected]
The LWV of Wisconsin filed an amended complaint ahead of the November election seeking back-up options for mail-in absentee voters who do not receive their ballot in the mail, as well as suspension of the witness signature requirement for mail-in absentee ballots.