The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

State lawmakers to discuss time frame for early voting

- By John Moritz

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.

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