As states across the country engage in the greatest assault on voting rights since Jim Crow, Connecticut has an opportunity in 2022 to set a new standard for protecting the freedom to vote.
State lawmakers are actively considering An Act Concerning Elections and State Voting Rights (S.B. 471). This transformative law builds upon the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and successful state laws already passed in California, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia. New York is currently considering legislation similar to SB 471. The first bill passed will immediately become the most comprehensive state-level voting rights act in the country.
The Legislature is considering the law in 2022—just in time for Connecticut to lead as other states move backwards and Congress struggles to move forward on voting rights.
Last year, 19 states passed laws restricting the freedom to vote; and dozens of states are considering additional anti-voter legislation this year. As states build barriers to the ballot box, the US Senate has once again failed to pass legislation to restore key protections and enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, we need states to lead by example to protect our right to vote.
Despite Connecticut’s progressive reputation, there are still discriminatory barriers to equal participation in our democracy for voters of color and people whose first language is not English, particularly at the local level. Recently, the Center for Public Integrity observed that Connecticut voters still “face some of the biggest obstacles outside of the south.” In fact, Connecticut has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the nation with Black and Latino voters facing limited access to absentee voting, no early voting, and longer voting lines.
Conditions that can foster voting discrimination — such as unfairly drawn districts that weaken Black and Brown voting power, inaccessible polling locations, insufficient language assistance for voters who don’t speak English, and even outright voter intimidation — endure throughout Connecticut. Connecticut’s towns and cities use at-large election structures or district maps, some of which may impair the ability of voters of color to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of elections.
The tremendous voter-suppression efforts that have arisen recently make this a perilous time for our democracy. Congress, the federal courts, and the states must stand up for voting rights. The whole nation needs Connecticut’s example. If passed, S.B. 471 will be one of the most comprehensive state-level voting rights acts in the country, building on successful laws already on the books in California, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia—and efforts under way now in New York.
2020 saw a dramatic increase in attempts to suppress the vote of Black, Latinx, and other minority-community voters. Democracy Defended captures and analyzes LDF’s work during the 2020 election season, including our Prepared to Vote and Voting Rights Defender initiatives. It provides documentation of barriers faced by Black voters in PTV/VRD focus states and solutions for policy makers, election administrators, and community members to implement to ensure fair access to the vote in future elections.