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Early voting is back on Connecticut’s ballot. Black and Latino voters want it passed

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Connecticut voters declined to adopt early voting eight years ago. Does it stand a chance this time?

WSHU’s Ebong Udoma spoke with CT Mirror’s Jaden Edison to discuss his article, “Early voting is on the ballot in CT, a key issue for Black and Latino residents,” as part of the collaborative podcast Long Story Short.

WSHU: Jaden, could you tell us what exactly Connecticut is doing about early voting right now?

JE: Essentially legislators have brought forth to the ballot this year a referendum. There's a referendum question that essentially voters will have the ability to answer yes or no to, a relatively simple question about the potential for early voting in Connecticut. So if the vast majority of supporters vote yes for this referendum, then the Connecticut Legislature can therefore put forth an infrastructure that allows for early in-person voting in Connecticut. Connecticut is only one of four states in the country that doesn't have early voting. This same kind of referendum was on the ballot in 2014. It fell short of 40,000 votes, and at that time was kind of grouped with another convenience voting measure known as no excuse absentee voting. Advocates have had long talks about how the question was confusing. There wasn't a lot of knowledge about, you know, what was going on. So it was kind of all encompassing. So this time, you have a more narrow, simple question about early voting in Connecticut. And essentially, the voting laws in Connecticut are enshrined in the state Constitution. This is one of the final steps in that process to getting an infrastructure for early voting.

WSHU: Because it's a constitutional measure, it has to first go to the voters, and it has to go get voter approval before the Legislature can craft the law that would change the provision in the Constitution to allow for early voting.

JE: Even more specifically, right, in order for something to make the ballot in referendum form.

It has to pass through the House and Senate with three-fourths majorities or have two successive terms in which legislators voted in favor of it. So that was the case with this.

WSHU: So bottom line, it's a cumbersome process.

JE: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely.

WSHU: And it failed the last time. And advocates say it's because people didn't understand what it was all about. And therefore, that's probably why it failed.

JE: Yeah, you know, this is a very interesting one. You know, I come from Texas. I've been reporting in Connecticut for nearly two months now. Texas is a state with early voting.

WSHU: The first state in the country that had early voting was Texas.

JE: Right, right, exactly. And so I had only known two weeks of early voting. So when I got to Connecticut, and I found that there's no early voting it was very peculiar and surprising. Nothing surprises me anymore, but it was definitely an eye opener, I would say. And I set that up to say, going down this process and learning about the logistics of it, I went back and looked at the previous question, learning that it had been on the ballot before. And even I, at a surface level, didn't understand what the question was really getting at. It didn't specifically reference early voting, you know, it was a very broad question. And it grouped no excuse absentee ballots and early voting together — two different things. And even that wasn't clear within the question. And so there are various reasons why someone would or wouldn't vote for a referendum on a ballot. But I would say at a surface level, as a journalist who's in tune with these things, who studies these things and is actively searching for and learning the history, even the question was confusing for me at the onset.

WSHU: Talking about history, Connecticut has a history of trying to limit voting that goes way back from the very beginning of the state. Could you just tell us a little bit about what you found out about how Connecticut has been behind the rest of the country in expanding voting to the population?

JE: You know, it's fascinating, right? I think a few things when we talk about Connecticut, especially, again, from someone who's had largely an outsider perspective, before I moved to Connecticut. It's looked upon as a place, when you talk about Connecticut leading the way to gun reform, in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, that has these, I guess, progressive stances, voted Democrat, historically speaking, and it's pretty consistent in voting patterns and things of that nature. And that's kind of generally the understanding outside looking in. But when you come to this issue of voting, you come across history in which Connecticut was one of the first states to require literacy tests for voters. It was one of the last states to essentially outlaw literacy tests. And as I noted in the story, that was something that literally was mandated from the federal government when the Voting Rights Act was amended in 1970. Connecticut was also not a part of that original bevy of states that supported the 19th Amendment, which grants some women the right to vote. Lastly, one of the big things I found in my research, was the history in which Black people in Connecticut have petitioned to the General Assembly of the Legislature to essentially say, 'hey, either give us the right to vote, or at least don't tax us, like, give us some kind of leeway.' The General Assembly denies all those petitions. And so you find a history of making sure that voting is limited to particular groups of people, and in which the Constitution has outright stated white male citizens. And so, all fascinating and contrary to what I guess, the vast majority of people may think about the seemingly progressive state has been pretty much regressive when it comes to voting access.

WSHU: Now you talked to some people of color for this story, and you found out that they feel that allowing early voting in the state would be beneficial to their communities. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

JE: Yeah, so I spent a lot of time with this story out in Bridgeport. I felt like Bridgeport was a very unique place, obviously, with this demographic. So predominantly a Black and Latino city in Connecticut, which obviously has been in the headlines for a variety of different things every year t seems — like in my research at least — when it comes to voting and so I thought it'd be a great place to go and just talk to voters. And so yes, I went to a farmers market, met a bunch of people. And what I was hearing surprisingly, was the fact that people didn't even know that this question was on the ballot this year. And people didn't even have a general understanding of what early voting would do for them, right. It's kind of like they were used to what the status quo was. They were used to, 'if I'm working two shifts, having a plan and try to figure out how I'm going to get to the polls, I'm getting off at work, having to go pick up my kids from this place, and then go through rush hour traffic to get to the polls at closing, if I'm not in line by certain time, I can't vote. And if I can't get there on time, I'm not going to vote.' These were just the things that people were used to. And I found that, as I sort of walked through what early voting has done for people across the country, in terms of what the landscape looks like, and what turnout has looked like, and all those kinds of things, is people with the information overwhelmingly supported early voting in my reporting.

WSHU: So what exactly is the question as it will appear on the ballot in Connecticut?

JE: Yeah, so the question this year is relatively simple. Shall the Constitution of the state be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting? And that's the question, the first question out of the referendums on the ballot, and that will be a yes or no, simple yes or no question for people. But again, when you compare that to 2014, much simpler, much more clear, and uses the term early voting. It's much more clear especially for people who are not always civically engaged, right, and are in tune with the different jargons and things that we use for various issues and things that people feel needs to be addressed.

WSHU: So advocates believe that this time, it'll make it and it will get the approval of voters and then it will go back to the Legislature to actually craft the amendment of this constitution?

JE: Right. Exactly. And that's exactly what it is. I think you've seen a concerted effort by politicians, particularly Denise Merrill, former Secretary of State, and then you have the League of Women Voters. I mean, you have Common Cause Connecticut, a bunch of ACLU CT, you know, a lot of folks who have gotten out and tried to really spread the word. My understanding too is that aside from the advocacy organizations, actual people who I spoke with, there were people who didn't know this was on the ballot before. And after kind of going through the process of learning about it, after an interaction with a reporter, people have reached out to me and say, "hey, this is something I'm actually going to look for, and I'm going to vote for.' I met one college student out in Bridgeport, who told me that he wasn't even registered to vote and that he didn't really believe in politics and all those kinds of things. But he expressed to me how this particular thing was something that could potentially help people who are civically engaged and so that he might even register and vote in support of his referendum. So just a lot of a lot of conversation around it. But I think this time around, my reporting has shown that with accurate, clear, concise information people feel obligated to get out and act.

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.
Molly is a news fellow, working on the Long Story Short, Higher Ground, and other podcasts at WSHU.