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Candidates in the race for Connecticut Secretary of the State differ on allowing prisoners to vote

Matthias Müller

Several Democrats and an independent running for the open seat of Secretary of the State are divided on how far Connecticut should expand access to voting.

During an online forum organized by the liberal advocacy group Common Cause, the candidates were asked if they would support ballot access for people behind bars.

“I would absolutely support ballot access for people behind bars. We have to realize that everyone behind bars is not a felon. People are in there for civil problems and issues where they have not lost their right to vote,” answered Cynthia Jennings, a Hartford civil rights attorney and an independent in the race.

State Senator Matt Lesser of Middletown, one of the Democrats in the race, said as secretary of the state he’d make sure that the Department of Corrections made provisions for those who are eligible to vote.

“I think that a right to vote is critical and something that we should expect the Department of Corrections to enforce in areas where it has custody. And I think that’s something that the next secretary of the state should actually prioritize,” he said.

State Representative Josh Elliot is a Hamden Democrat. His campaign is all about opening up voter access, he said.

“I’ve decided to make this campaign about rank choice voting, about voting for people who are incarcerated and about vastly expanding the conversation about how early we should vote,” Elliot said.

State Representative Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat from Nowalk, said she’d consider looking into the issue.

“Because most people in our prisons are not guilty for life. And if we want them to come back and rejoin the community and have a stake in it, the right to vote is the most fundamental way to do that,” she said.

New Haven Alderman Darryl Brackeen also answered yes. That’s because it would counter the longstanding problem of prison gerrymandering that has only recently been reversed by the state Legislature.

“Our cities are most impacted by these issues. I strongly believe that the prison system does need a lot of changes. In terms of this issue, I think it's vitally important,” said Brackeen.

But Meriden State Representative Hilda Santiago said it wouldn’t be her priority.

“The access to ballots is important, and I believe people should vote, but I think there are other issues that we need to really look at in the state of Connecticut before that is even thought about,” she said.

For the Democrats in the race, their first big hurdle is winning the endorsement of party insiders during their convention in May.

As WSHU Public Radio’s award-winning senior political reporter, Ebong Udoma draws on his extensive tenure to delve deep into state politics during a major election year.