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  • Darryl Brackeen, Jr – Chair, Generation Change CT

Opinion: Our Votes Are In Jeopardy

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

By Darryl Brackeen, Jr. | August 10, 2020 | New Haven Independent

(Opinion) As a nation, we are facing troubling times during this pandemic. But the truth is many issues, gaps, and weaknesses have been exposed within so many of our state institutions. Not only the vulnerabilities in our healthcare system but equally true of our voting system as well.

Many voting rights advocates such as myself have fought to see the day mail- in voting would see the light of day in our state. We have seen a disastrous implementation of absentee voting under the provisions of the emergency order. Thousands of registered voters have gone without ballots in a timely fashion and the primary election is on Tuesday. The mail house option is out the window, as the postal service is often delayed in its expected delivery and ultimately the ballots would not be received in time. Are we going to talk about it? Or are we just going to act as if thousands of voters will now have to locate the 1 or 2 ballot boxes in their city or town? This is a prime example of disenfranchisement for voters who do not have access to transportation, have compromising health conditions, and are not aware of the lone ballot box or its location.

While I fully supported Governor Lamont’s decision to reschedule the primary – as voters should not be forced to choose between their health and their right to vote – the sad truth is, we should have never been in this position in the first place. Yes, this pandemic was the immediate cause of the challenges we face, but the underlying causes are long-standing weaknesses in our voting laws, methods, and processes that have existed for years, if not decades.

What are the plans for November? Should we start educating the voters now? The consequences of our elections and our democracy are at stake here in the state and the nation.

Indeed, this public health crisis has brought to light what so many advocates and champions of voting rights have been saying for years: We must radically reform how we administer elections and how we properly support our local voter registrars and city/town clerks. They are often the political scapegoats and are blamed, when in fact the support needs to come from the Secretary of State’s office. The bottom line is there are too many citizens being left out and left behind in our democracy.

It is incumbent on our state leaders to act now and get the additional funding and boots on the ground to our cities and towns to ensure that all voters can cast their ballots in a safe, fair, and accessible manner in the primary and general election.

A progressive approach to address this in the future is to:

Expand a vote by mail system that is planned for far in advance and finally pass and implement a “no-excuse” absentee ballot voting. But more than that, we must make the process accessible to all by permitting voters to request an absentee ballot online, providing pre-paid return postage for ballots, allowing ballots to be postmarked up to election day, and implementing a ballot tracking system so that voters and registrars alike can monitor and confirm receipt. We must also have a robust voter education campaign to help familiarize people with the process as well as a ballot curing process to ensure that accidental omissions or mistakes by the voter can be corrected so that as many ballots as possible are both cast and counted.

Next, we should allow a pilot to pursue new methods of voting like electronic voting. How can we bank, shop, and clear airport security using our phones, tablets, and computers; there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to vote safely and securely online as well. E-voting is already being successfully used in several cities and states.

Therefore, we must provide the boots on the ground and funding for local registrars and city/town clerks for early voting – at least the entire weekend before election day – and ensure that municipalities have an adequate number of poll sites per their respective population – not just one at the Registrar’s office downtown where it’s inaccessible to many communities.

Finally, we must have an Automatic Voting Registration. When you turn 18 or move into a community, you should become a registered voter – period. We also need to expand enrollment points beyond just the Department of Motor Vehicles, including online voter registration and same-day voter registration at all poll sites.

In conclusion, we need to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals (including parolees) and the incarcerated – and prohibit unwarranted purges and removals of registered voters from the voter rolls. The 15th amendment says, “the rights of citizens of the U.S. to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” We are a more robust democracy when everyone can exercise their franchise: one person, one vote – full stop.

The 2020 election is one of the most important elections – if not, the most important – in our lifetimes. As such, every citizen should be allowed to participate in choosing our leaders and determining our future.

Darryl Brackeen, Jr is a member of the 2020 National Urban League Congressional Advocacy cohort, four-term Alderman for the City of New Haven, and Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee.

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