Opinion: Together, we can end voter suppression in Bridgeport

Gemeem Davis, co-director of Bridgeport Generation Now.

Gemeem Davis, co-director of Bridgeport Generation Now.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

The Connecticut General Assembly has a once-in-a-decade chance to end voter suppression in Connecticut and systemic corruption in Bridgeport.

House Joint Resolution No. 58 and House Joint Resolution No. 59 would create ballot referendums for Connecticut voters to ask two important questions: “Shall the Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to allow any voter, for any reason, to vote by absentee ballot?” and “Shall the Constitution of the State be amended to permit the General Assembly to provide for early voting?”

The loud and clear answer to these two resolutions is a resounding yes. By limiting in-person voting to Election Day and by placing restrictions on who is eligible to vote early by mail using an absentee ballot, Connecticut is engaged in a racist, classist and ableist system of voter suppression. In fact, only six states do not allow for early, in-person voting: Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina. As for vote-by-mail, Connecticut is only one of 16 states that requires an excuse to vote absentee.

These restrictions target our state’s Black and brown communities and disenfranchise Connecticut’s low-income, working-class citizens while creating significant burdens on our disabled, home-bound and elderly voters. In order to create an inclusive, multiracial democracy in this state, we need real, structural change. A system for all mail-in voting and early voting would unleash democratic power in our state.

For the voters of Bridgeport, the amendments proposed in HJ 58 and 59 would revolutionize our local elections. During the 2020 presidential election, thanks to the expanded access of absentee voting, Bridgeport far surpassed Connecticut’s other large cities with a record 72 percent turnout. Voters we spoke with enjoyed using an absentee ballot from the safety of their home and the convenience of the ballot drop boxes. Our voters are educated and motivated. We just need to create the right environment for full enfranchisement and free and fair elections.

These amendments would also help end systemic corruption in our city. For generations, it’s been an open secret that Bridgeport voters suffer under absentee ballot fraud and abuse, perpetrated by political operatives connected to our local Democratic Town Committee. The closed nature of Connecticut elections — and the burdens placed on voters to exercise our right to vote — mean local elections in Bridgeport are manipulated because political actors continue to be highly motivated. These operatives are paid to abuse the absentee ballot process by targeting, defrauding and manipulating our youth, elderly, disabled, low-income and Spanish-speaking residents, all for the purpose of controlling the outcomes of our local elections.

Bridgeporters know the game is rigged, which drives our voter participation and civic engagement down. From 2015 to 2019, Bridgeport saw a 23 percent decrease in voter participation in our local elections. By passing these two resolutions, the Connecticut voters would be able to decide whether to amend our constitution and enfranchise tens of thousands of Bridgeport voters to vote on their own accord and their own timeline, thereby diluting the power of greedy politicians to target and manipulate our election results.

The people of Bridgeport deserve free and fair elections. It’s time to put the question to Connecticut voters and build the expansive, open democracy of which we all can be proud.

Gemeem Davis is president and co-director of Bridgeport Generation Now Votes and Callie Gale Heilmann is co-director of Bridgeport Generation Now Votes.