Connecticut's Latin American community responds to early voting proposals
Connecticut voters approved amending the state constitution last year to permit early voting. Some hope this will give historically marginalized communities more opportunity to participate in elections.
Werner Oyanadel is with the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity and Opportunity (the Commission for All). The commission hosted an event Thursday exploring how proposed changes could impact voting in a diversifying Connecticut.
“The Latino population is growing significantly at a rate 12 times faster than the general population, and you can see how the bills are now beginning to reflect that issue,” Oyanadel said.
According to Pew Research, there were roughly 322,000 eligible Latin American voters in the state, making up just over 1 in 10 eligible Connecticut voters.
There are three proposals working through the state's Government Administration and Elections Committee, each expanding early voting but with variations, including differences in the number of days to permit early voting.
Anyone who has become a U.S. citizen should use their right to vote, said Hilda Nieves, chair of the Latinos and Puerto Ricans sub-commission within the Commission for All.
"[It’s] the basis of our democracy to have that representation of all individuals across the board,” Nieves said.
One outstanding question is who will pay for early voting. Many at the meeting said they hope the state's Appropriations Committee sets aside state funds to support early voting, rather than put the financial burden on each municipality.
Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas supports the measures. Her office said it’s difficult to estimate a cost as there are many moving pieces to the legislation.
While Connecticut recently expanded voting access, that's not the case across the United States. According to UnidosUS, as of 2016, 8 million Latin Americans live in jurisdictions no longer under oversight from the “federal government based on changes made to the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. As of April 2020, 47 states had introduced more than 350 bills aimed to restrict voting in communities of color.”
Oyanadel, with the Commission for All, said it is crucial not only to increase voting accessibility, but also to educate potential voters, particularly Latin Americans.
“We want to be part of the conversation and [decisions] when they are being made, not after,” Oyanadel said. “And in education, once the bill is passed, we are going to be working hand to hand with the Secretary of [the] State educating the community about this.”