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Lawmakers and civil rights groups gather in support of voting rights legislation

Voting Rights
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Connecticut state Rep. Anne Hughes reacts to the impassioned words of state Rep. Corey Paris: “We fight hard to protect the rights of gun owners. “We fight hard to protect the rights of tax cuts for the rich. We fight hard to protect all of the things that don't matter to us, and I'll tell you this: They will take our votes from our cold, dead hands because we are going to fight hard to ensure that democracy is available to each and every one of us." Paris was one of several lawmakers and advocates who spoke outside the state Capitol April 21, 2022, to urge passage of a Senate voting rights bill.

Civil rights groups and lawmakers gathered Thursday at the state Capitol in support of legislation that would strengthen citizens’ access to the ballot box.

The goal of the Senate bill, called An Act Concerning Elections and State Voting Rights, is to make voting in Connecticut easier, particularly for Black and Latino voters or people with disabilities who might have more difficulty accessing polling sites. It also addresses a lack of language assistance for residents for whom English is not their first language.

State Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown said this local effort would provide the necessary legal tools to protect voters from intimidation or discrimination at the polls.

“When people face long lines and run out of ballots and have other issues accessing the ballot in Connecticut, we have more work right here, and that will only happen when we have a Connecticut Voting Rights Act,” Lesser said.

The proposed bill would expand language assistance for voters with limited English proficiency.

It would also open state courts to address any complaints of voter intimidation at the polls.

Voting Rights
Mark Mirko
/
Connecticut Public
Outside the Connecticut state Capitol, Emily Kolodziej records speakers during a news conference in which lawmakers and voting rights advocates pushed for passage of S.B. 471, a voting rights bill.

“Our state has to act on voting rights,” said Claudine Fox, policy and advocacy director for the ACLU of Connecticut. “Voting restrictions harm all voters, especially Black and Latinx voters, people with disabilities and people who lack job flexibility, transportation, or child care.”

The bill proposes to launch a “preclearance” program that would require municipalities with records of discrimination to prove that any proposed voting changes will not harm voters of color before the changes can take effect.

For three decades, the Hispanic Federation has ensured that Latinos are registered to vote and informed of their civil rights in the necessary language.

“Most recently, the census data demonstrated that the growth of the Hispanic and Latino population is the most striking of any group in the state,” said Yanidsi Velez, New England regional director of the Hispanic Federation. “Spanish-speaking voters are not second-class citizens, and their voices must be heard in every election cycle.”

The Democratic-sponsored bill would first need to make it to the House in the remaining two weeks of the legislative session. Republicans say they won’t support the bill.