UPDATE: On Thursday, May 25, the Connecticut Senate passed Senate Bill 1226, a state-level Voting Rights Act. The bill now heads to the Connecticut House.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, March 15, the Connecticut Government Administration and Elections Committee proposed Senate Bill 1226, or otherwise called An Act Concerning State Voting Rights In Recognition Of John R. Lewis.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court steadily undermining the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) over the past decade, states are looking to pass their own state-level protections. A state VRA is characterized by the way it empowers voters through the legal system. Five states — California, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Washington — have VRAs and at least four more states are looking to enact one this session. In addition to Connecticut, proposals are either introduced or in the drafting process in Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey.
The heart of S.B. 1226 would mirror the now-defunct Section 5 of the federal VRA, requiring local jurisdictions with histories of voting discrimination (as defined in the bill) to receive preclearance for any election law changes, including redistricting, from the secretary of the state or the superior court for the judicial district of Hartford, the state’s capital. Other provisions within S.B. 1226 strengthen legal protections for voters, including:
- Prohibiting any voter registration, voter eligibility or voting rule that “results in an impairment of the right to vote for any protected class member.” The bill gives voters more legal tools to fight against discriminatory voting laws in court. It outlines what standards should be used, who has the right to file a lawsuit and more. Importantly, S.B. 1226 notes that the “court shall not give deference or priority to a remedy proposed by a municipality simply because it has been proposed by such municipality.”
- Establishing a statewide election database, which would improve information sharing for local officials and communities across the state.
- Expanding language access for voters who primarily speak a language other than English.
- Creating protections against “intimidation, deception or obstruction that interfere with any elector’s right to vote.”
- Proposing a legal philosophy that state or local election policies should always be construed in a pro-voter way that encourages wider participation.
To become law, S.B. 1226 will need to gain the support of the Democratic-controlled Connecticut House and Senate, as well as Gov. Ned Lamont (D).