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Analysis

Unlocking the Vote in Connecticut

The Constitution State has restored the vote for people on parole, marking a national milestone in the movement to end criminal disenfranchisement.

June 23, 2021
voting
Joe Raedle/Staff

Connecti­cut Gov. Ned Lamont signed into law Senate Bill 1202 Wednes­day, restor­ing the right to vote to as many as 4,000 people with past convic­tions who are living in the community. Not only is this a land­mark accom­plish­ment in the fight to protect and advance voting rights in the state of Connecti­cut, but it also repres­ents a shift in the national voting rights land­scape. There are now no states that distin­guish between proba­tion and parole when it comes to eligib­il­ity to vote.

With roots stretch­ing back over 20 years, activ­ists and legis­lat­ors in Connecti­cut have been work­ing to end disen­fran­chise­ment for people in the community. After first achiev­ing the restor­a­tion of voting rights for people on proba­tion in 2001, initial legis­lat­ive efforts to expand this restor­a­tion to people on parole stalled.

The result was that before enact­ing S.B. 1202, Connecti­cut was the only state in the coun­try that allowed people on proba­tion to vote, but not people on parole — a distinc­tion that caused confu­sion among eligible voters and elec­tion offi­cials alike. What’s more, systemic racism in the crim­inal legal system meant that Connecti­c­ut’s disen­fran­chise­ment policy dispro­por­tion­ately impacted people of color. The new law will go a long way toward undo­ing this injustice.

Until now, Connecti­cut was also the only state in the North­east where people who were no longer incar­cer­ated could not vote. When S.B. 1202 goes into effect on July 1 this year, 21 states and Wash­ing­ton, DC, allow all citizens living in the community to vote. That number will grow when Wash­ing­ton State’s recently enacted voting rights restor­a­tion law goes into effect in 2022.

Progress in Connecti­cut reflects national momentum in the fight to roll back crim­inal disen­fran­chise­ment, a policy that is largely a legacy of the Jim Crow era. In the past few years alone, victor­ies have been achieved across the coun­try to expand voting rights for people with past convic­tions. This year, New York and Wash­ing­ton state enacted laws to restore voting rights. In 2020, Cali­for­nia restored voting rights via ballot initi­at­ive, Iowa did so by exec­ut­ive action, and Wash­ing­ton, DC did so legis­lat­ively. In 2019, New Jersey, Color­ado, and Nevada restored voting rights legis­lat­ively, and Kentucky did so by exec­ut­ive order. This year, a consti­tu­tional amend­ment advanced in Virginia and a bill passed one cham­ber in New Mexico to restore voting rights.

These state victor­ies demon­strate nation­wide support for an inclus­ive, access­ible demo­cracy and a desire to break down barri­ers that dispro­por­tion­ately lock Black voters out of the ballot box. At the federal level, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has rein­tro­duced the Demo­cracy Restor­a­tion Act, which would auto­mat­ic­ally restore the right to vote in federal elec­tions nation­wide to people with past crim­inal convic­tions who are not currently in prison. This provi­sion is also part of the For the People Act, the land­mark demo­cracy reform bill that recently passed the House and now awaits a vote in the Senate.

Build­ing on success in Connecti­cut, New York, and Wash­ing­ton this year, lawmakers across the coun­try and in Congress have more work to do to unlock voting rights for all of our neigh­bors and ensure a free and fair demo­cracy.