The League of Women Voters of Connecticut and the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP have filed a lawsuit calling on Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to expand absentee voting for the November election, a move Merrill has made clear she cannot do without the extension of emergency powers by Gov. Ned Lamont or a formal change passed by the legislature.
The groups, along with a Connecticut voter who does not feel comfortable voting in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are calling on the state to extend the medical exemption covering COVID for absentee ballots to the November election.
An executive order signed by Lamont said any eligible Democratic or Republican voter will be allowed to use an absentee ballot to vote in the Aug. 11 primary. Applications are being sent this week to 2 million eligible voters. However, because the governor’s public health emergency order expires Sept. 9, he cannot mandate that the ballots be made available for the Nov. 3 general election.
Thursday’s lawsuit marks the third legal action filed in recent weeks regarding mail-in voting in Connecticut. The first two were filed in state courts by critics of the concept including four Republican congressional candidates on the primary ballot who are part of a group called Fight Voter Fraud Inc. They filed a lawsuit Wednesday with the Connecticut Supreme Court, asking the court to order Merrill to stop sending out the voter applications “that misinform the true legal requirements for voting by absentee ballot.“
“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, in a statement.
Merrill has called upon the Connecticut legislature to pass reforms in an upcoming special session that would apply to the November general election, and it seems lawmakers are poised to take up the issue and make a change at least for the duration of the pandemic.
An executive order issued by Lamont allows every Connecticut voter to vote by absentee ballot in the August primary. But Lamont’s emergency powers are slated to expire in September, prior to the November election.
Several lawsuits have been filed by Republicans alleging, with no evidence, that allowing widespread vote-by-mail will result in voter fraud.
“No Connecticut voter should be forced to choose between protecting their health and casting their ballot,” Merrill said. “As I have said for months, the legislature should come into special session immediately to allow Connecticut voters to cast their votes by absentee ballot in November.”
More than 46,000 Connecticut residents have contracted COVID-19 and over 4,300 have died with the virus.
While many states have widespread mail-in voting and early voting, Connecticut does not have any form of early voting outside of voting absentee and requires voters provide an excuse such as illness or absence to obtain an absentee ballot.
Scot X. Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP State Conference, said that Black voters, who have been disproportionately impacted by coronavirus, will also be disproportionately impacted by the inability to vote by mail in November.
“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,” he said. “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.”
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