Herron Keyon Gaston

State Senator

Herron Keyon Gaston

Deputy Majority Leader

Empowering Communities, Driving Change

May 25, 2023

Sen. Gaston Applauds Senate Passage Of New Bill To Protect Voting Rights In Connecticut

Even as some Republican-led states across America engage in an all-out war on democracy and a reduction in voting rights for some American citizens, state Senator Herron Keyon Gaston (D-Bridgeport) voted for a bill designed to protect democracy in Connecticut and voting rights for all Connecticut citizens.

Senate Bill 1226, “An Act Concerning State Voting Rights In Recognition of John R. Lewis,” a bill named in honor of the late Georgia Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis who died in 2020 at age 80, passed the Senate and now heads to the House of Representatives.

If approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law by Governor Ned Lamont, S.B. 1226 would codify into Connecticut state law several aspects of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which bans discrimination in voting and prohibits any city or town from engaging in intimidating, deceptive, or obstructive acts that affect a person’s right to vote.

“As the late honorable John Lewis’s former intern, I am proud to stand up in his honor as we codify anti-discrimination protections for residents in our state when they cast their votes in elections,” said Sen. Gaston. “Congressman Lewis was a fighter who believed in social justice and I believe we are bringing justice to voters here in our state. No person regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or creed should feel any barriers when heading to the polls and should feel protected when performing their rights.”

Specifically, S.B. 1226: makes resolving Voting Rights Act complaints easier and faster by fast-tracking the complaint process at the local level, leading to more collaborative resolutions and less lengthy federal litigation (which can take years); creates a central data hub for publicly available election and demographic information; expands language assistance for voters with limited English proficiency; empowers voters to fight against intimidation, deception and obstruction; helps municipalities identify and fix problems before voters are affected; enable Connecticut judges to order appropriate, tailored remedies to address harm.

Connecticut needs to pass its own state law to protect voting rights because in 2013, the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, thereby allowing individual states to pass restrictive voting laws if they so choose.

Congress tried to pass the federal John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in 2021 to counteract this, but the bill failed in the U.S. Senate due to Republican opposition.

According to the Human Rights Campaign (https://www.hrc.org/resources/voting-rights-advancement-act), the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 included a requirement designed to ensure minority voters across the country are able to participate equally in the electoral process, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices and removed many barriers to voting.

But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of it: among the invalidated provisions was an enforcement mechanism that prevented states from making changes to their voting laws and practices if they have a history of voting discrimination, unless they clear those changes with federal officials. The Supreme Court ruled that the formula for deciding which states and towns have a history of voting discrimination (and were therefore required to pre-approve changes in voting laws and practices) was unconstitutional. This severely weakened the federal government’s oversight of discriminatory voting practices.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision, various Republican states and localities across America have brazenly pushed forward discriminatory changes to voting practices, such as changing district boundaries to disadvantage certain voters, instituting more onerous voter identification laws, and changing polling locations with little notice. These laws especially disenfranchise people of color, the elderly, low-income people, transgender people and people with disabilities. As a result, millions of American voters in some Republican-led state are now more vulnerable to discrimination now than at any time since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law more than half a century ago.