Without any big, public fireworks, the Fourth of July felt a little bit different this year. In their absence, we found new ways to celebrate Thomas Jefferson’s immortal promise of “unalienable rights,” including “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Of course, our political system was far from perfect in Jefferson’s time. Our nation’s history is one of fits and starts, as democracy grew larger and more inclusive. The right to vote, once reserved for white men who owned land, was won by people of color and women. Voting came to be seen as a right and not a privilege.

Elected officials love to say exercising your own right to vote is the highest form of patriotism, but our own history makes clear that the highest form of patriotism is not just participating in our democracy, but fighting to make it bigger and better.

Absentee ballots

This July, I’m joining activists across our community, including the bipartisan Ridgefield League of Women Voters, in calling for legislation that would ensure this pandemic does not prevent any citizen from exercising their right to vote. In a few weeks, we’ll propose a bill to guarantee that every citizen is eligible for an absentee ballot. It is our belief that no person should be forced to jeopardize their health and safety in order to participate in the democratic process.

Of course, in-person voting locations will still be available for those who would like to vote like they always do. However, elderly voters may hesitate before venturing to a crowded polling location where they risk coming into contact with COVID-19. That’s why I’m fighting to send every registered voter an absentee ballot application, including postage, prior to the general election in November.

Opposition

Some of my colleagues have already staked out their opposition to any reform. A few of them are going so far as to sue the secretary of the state in order to make sure that voting is not made any easier during a pandemic. The suit reminds me of a moment this past year in the Senate chamber, when one of my colleagues opposed “early voting” by arguing that the opportunity to vote shouldn’t be handed out on a silver platter.

I can’t help but wonder, why not? Hasn’t America’s history taught us that voting should be a right and not a privilege? Expanding access to absentee ballots isn’t about benefiting one party or candidate — it’s about strengthening our democracy for all and keeping our constituents safe.

If we’re successful in passing this reform during a July special session, surely some of my constituents who request an absentee ballot will not vote for me. That’s life in a democracy. And patriotism requires fighting for their right to vote, too.

Sen. Will Haskell, a Democrat, is the state senator representing the 26th District that includes Ridgefield, Redding, Westport, Wilton and parts of Bethel, New Canaan and Weston.