HARTFORD, Conn. — The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Connecticut filed a federal lawsuit today seeking to make absentee mail-in voting available to every eligible voter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Connecticut State Conference of NAACP Branches and the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, as well as 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 so far — including over 4,300 deaths — the state has retained one of the most restrictive mail voting systems in the nation for the November general election.
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 Gov. 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.
“Connecticut is in the midst of a deadly pandemic and will be for the foreseeable future. The state should act now to make absentee mail-in voting accessible for all eligible voters throughout 2020. There is no reason to delay. It is a common-sense solution that will protect people’s health and their right to vote,” said Davin Rosborough, a senior 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 right 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 of the ACLU of Connecticut.
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 are also unable to vote using the absentee process for the November election.
The impact, the lawsuit notes, falls especially heavily on Black voters, who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic: “Connecticut’s history of discrimination against Black people, as well as continuing discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and health care, 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 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.
“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. 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.
The lawsuit, Connecticut NAACP v. Merrill, was filed in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn.
Case details: https://www.aclu.org/cases/connecticut-naacp-v-merrill