The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
State lawmakers to discuss time frame for early voting
Two weeks of in-person, early voting could be the “sweet spot” that Connecticut lawmakers settle upon after being tasked by voters with settling up a system to open up polls before Election Day, House Speaker Matt Ritter said Friday.
The speaker’s comments a day after lawmakers unveiled a trio of proposals for early voting periods of varying length — 10 days, 14 days and 18 days — and ahead of a public hearing next week that Ritter said will kick-off a monthslong push to enact rules around early voting in time for this year’s municipal elections.
In November, Connecticut voters overwhelmingly approved an early voting measure that appeared on the ballot, joining 46 other states that allow voters to cast ballots in person at polling locations prior to Election Day.
The measure approved by voters, however, did not include details for how the early voting process would work in Connecticut, leaving it up to officials to craft a new system from scratch.
After being elected to her first term in November on a platform supportive of early voting, Democratic Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas delivered to lawmakers last month her recommendation for an early voting period of 10 days, citing research into other state models by the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research.
While one of the three bills introduced by lawmakers this week closely mirrors Thomas’ proposal, she told CT Insider that calls for a slightly longer early voting window were growing among prominent Democrats, including Ritter and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy. While not necessarily opposed to a twoweek window, Thomas said that she did not expect to see enough of a benefit from increased turnout to justify the additional costs.
Similarly, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Friday that Republicans remain concerned local officials lack the resources needed to implement any period of early voting, including more modern equipment and money to pay the salaries of poll workers.
The feeling among local election officials is that longer periods of early voting would be untenable for towns to manage, particularly in special elections and municipal referendums, according to Christopher Prue, the president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut.
“Eighteen days seems to be a lot, both in terms of voting and administration,” said Prue, adding that the association planned to advocate for a shorter period of between 10 and 14 days during a public hearing before the Government Administration and Elections Committee next week.
Each of the three bills put forward by lawmakers would require that every one of the state’s 169 municipalities set up at least one polling location during early voting, with the option for larger cities to designate additional sites if necessary.
Ritter said that the expectation among state and local officials is that most smaller towns would simply designate their town hall as the early voting location, but that cities such as Hartford and New Haven might have the demand and resources necessary for additional locations.
Other issues addressed differently in the proposals put forward so far — such as the specific days and hours in which early voting will be held, and whether the same period will apply to all kinds of elections — will likely be drawn together into one final bill, Prue predicted. “We’re glad to have options,” he said.
One point of agreement among state and local officials is that the details of a final proposal need to be worked out in the coming months, in order to give the state enough time to roll out the system in time for municipal elections this fall.
Doing so would give cities and towns a sort of test run with early voting during the typically low turnout of an off-year election, and ahead of the expected swell of voters participating in next year’s presidential election.
Ritter said that he hoped to have the final bill passed in April or early May, while Thomas requested in her letter to lawmakers last month that the bill’s passage come no later than March 31, along with money to cover the cost of training materials, staff, new equipment and ballots in time for the municipal elections.