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Letter: Safe voting in the 2020 elections

With the catastrophic number of COVID-19 deaths (currently over 115,000 in the U.S. and over 4,000 in Connecticut), the Connecticut government should provide for safe voting in both the Aug. 11 primary and the Nov. 3 general election. It is wrong and ridiculous to have different rules affecting public health in the general election that follows the primary by less than three months.

Action is necessary now to permit safe absentee voting in the November election. This is a matter of public safety, both for voters and for poll workers. This is not a partisan issue, and there is no place for partisanship at the expense of public health and safety and our democracy.

The state Constitution permits absentee ballots when “qualified voters ... are unable to appear at the polling place ... because of sickness....” The Constitution does not require that an individual voter be sick or ill. Sickness in the community at large would satisfy the constitutional requirement. The COVID-19 pandemic affects the population at large in the state of Connecticut and is an illness for each voter, irrespective of symptoms and testing.

State law is not consistent with the Constitution for the law and the form of the application for an absentee ballot refer to “his or her illness” as a reason for inability to appear at the polling place. In the Constitution, the reference to “sickness” is general. In the state law, the reference to “illness” is personal to the voter.

Governor Lamont has addressed the problem with respect to the primary election scheduled for Aug. 11.  Executive Order No. 7QQ authorizes absentee voting for the Aug. 11 primary because of the sickness of COVID-19, if at the time of application for an absentee ballot there is no federally approved and widely available vaccine. The Executive Order is limited to the primary.

The Legislature is not in session, and a special session on this issue would put the health of the legislators at risk and may create partisan divide. Revision of the Constitution and the state voting laws may be merited for many reasons, but this can wait until the pandemic is over.

The current need is limited — to provide a safe framework for the November general election.

Governor Lamont should issue a new Executive Order to provide for safe voting in the General Election as he has done for the August primary. All state legislators, including the leadership of both parties, in the General Assembly and the Senate should endorse the action of the governor.

The courts, if requested to act, should protect the constitutional right to safe absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All eligible voters should exercise their right to vote in the primary in August and the general election in November, in both cases safely and without risk to their personal health.

The need for action is now. The right action to take is clear.

G. A. Mudge


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