LETTER: Arora’s Position on Possible Extension of Governor’s Public Health Emergency Order for Absentee Ballots is Unclear

Submitted by Joseph Smith, Riverside

We’ve all been through it at one time or another, that subtle angst that something isn’t quite right, that something happened or someone said something that just didn’t quite make sense or that left you unsettled.  Given how the coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives, it’s likely a lot of us have experienced that unsettled feeling lately.

On the plus side, the pandemic has made it much easier to “attend” events we would otherwise forego, including the Greenwich League of Women Voters annual discussion with our state legislators. The virtual nature of the event this year gave all of us who attended the chance to really listen – without interruption – to everything our legislators had to say, from updating us on their accomplishments during the last session to their views on a range of issues, most notable of which was voting by absentee ballot. It was on this issue that I finally realized – a full week after the fact – the source of my unsettled feelings.

About midway through the event, the League’s co-VP of Voters Services Joanne Stavrou asked the legislators, “Should (Governor) Lamont’s public health emergency order which expands absentee ballots for COVID-19 be extended?” 

Representative Livvy Floren, in her trademark poised, measured and deliberate way, without hesitation responded “In short, yes, I do think so,” underscoring her position by reminding all of us of her unwavering commitment to “no excuse” absentee ballots from the start of her storied 20-year legislative career. 

Senator Alex Kasser and Representative Steve Meskers also presented cogent, articulate and clearly well thought out defenses of expansion of absentee balloting.   All three noted the challenges posed by the wording of the Connecticut state constitution, and that a long-term permanent solution will require a lot of work, but there was no doubt as to how they will vote at the upcoming special legislative session July 22.

Representative Harry Arora then served up a word salad of a response, giving those listening the impression that he was suddenly reversing his position on the issue. 

Back on June 25, when asked about the lawsuit filed by his fellow Republican legislators against the expansion, Mr. Arora was quoted in the Greenwich Time saying “I am currently of the opinion that anyone who is in a high risk group should be able to vote absentee, but those who are in low risk categories and are willing to go to rallies, protests and other events should vote in person.”  He continued, “There is a lot of research which shows that in-person voting is unbiased, unpressured and has a reduced chance for fraud.”  I’ll take up his playing the “fraud card” some other time.

Meanwhile, this is what the Greenwich Time reported on July 9th about Mr. Arora’s response at the League event the evening before:

“State Rep. Harry Arora, R-151, said he believes the extension would pass with a “good plurality” and strong bipartisan support.  ‘I don’t think there are too many people out there in the legislature who have a problem with any of this,’ Arora said. ‘I think this has been made to be a political issue. …We want everyone who has the need to vote absentee because of (coronavirus) reasons to be able to vote absentee.  Any other idea is not defensible.  Are we saying we won’t let people vote? Let’s not politicize this.’”

Re-reading these two accounts (and re-watching the video which is available on the home page of the League’s site http://lwvg.org/index.html) is when it occurred to me that my source of unease this past week is that Mr. Arora never actually answered Ms. Stavrou’s question.  At its core a simple “yes” or “no” is all she needed to hear, yet both words are starkly – and disturbingly – absent from Mr. Arora’s non-answer.  If anything, it appears – to my way of deciphering his cryptic response – that he has doubled down on his commitment to voter suppression and intends to vote against the extension of the governor’s emergency order.

Any statement made that has the effect of discouraging voter turnout is an overt act of voter suppression.  Mr. Arora went on to grossly misstate the cost of mailing the absentee ballot applications and then decried the upcoming August 8th primary elections as irrelevant.  What other reason would one have to debase the sacred privilege of the American vote than to keep turnout low?  Each and every one of us – particularly those of us who reside in Mr. Arora’s district – must remember this as we cast our votes, in person or by mail, this November.

Joseph Smith
Riverside, CT

Editor’s note: Letters to the Editor in support of local candidates in the Nov 3, 2020 election may be submitted for consideration beginning July 15 and with a hard deadline of Oct 26, 2020 at noon.