Opinion: We must modernize our voting
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
By Darryl J. Brackeen, Jr. | Thursday, April 23, 2020 | New Haven Register
The COVID-19 pandemic is exposing gaps and weaknesses within so many of our country’s institutions and systems. The vulnerabilities exist within our health care system, our education system and our economy. Sadly, this is equally true of our voting system as we witness state after state postponing their primaries and millions of voters unable to cast their ballots safely and securely.
Sixteen states, including our home state of Connecticut, have been forced to delay primary elections, with ours now moved from April 28, to June 2, and now revised to Aug. 11. While I fully support Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision to reschedule our 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 reason for changing our primary date, but we would have had challenges on June 2, and now challenges can potentially be had on Aug. 11 because of long-standing, underlying weakness in our voting laws, methods and processes that have existed for years, if not decades.
Imagine the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged just before the general election in November. The consequences for our elections and for our democracy would have been disastrous.
The Republican establishment has made clear the GOP will put their electoral interests above the health, safety and enfranchisement of Americans, regardless of a date change. From their shameful display in the recent Wisconsin primary to President Trump’s recent pronouncements that an increase in voter turnout is terrible for his re-election prospects, they will do everything possible to compromise full access to voting for everyone.
Indeed, this public health crisis brings to light what so many advocates and voting rights champions have been saying for years: we need to radically reform how we administer elections because too many of our citizens are left out and left behind in our democracy.
Given this pandemic might be with us (or resurface again) in November, it is incumbent on our state leaders to act now to ensure that all voters can cast their ballots in a safe, fair and accessible manner in the upcoming 2020 general election — and beyond.
Here’s what we need to do.
First, we must expand vote-by-mail and implement “no-excuse” absentee ballot voting. We must make these processes accessible to all by providing voters with the ability to request an absentee ballot online, including prepaid return postage for ballots, allowing ballots to be postmarked up to Election Day and implementing a ballot tracking system so that voters and registrars 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.
Second, we must begin to pilot and pursue new methods of voting like electronic voting. 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 successfully used in several cities and states.
Third, we must provide for early voting — at least the entire weekend before Election Day — and ensure that municipalities have an adequate number of new polling sites per their respective population — not just one at the registrar’s office downtown where it is not accessible to many community members.
Fourth, we must have 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.
Last, we need to restore the right to vote for parolees and the formerly incarcerated and prohibit unwarranted purges and removals of registered voters from voting 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 — if not, the most important — elections 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 and alderman for the city of New Haven.