U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Denise Merrill, South Windsor Registrar of Voters Sue Larsen, and West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Local Connecticut election officials and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal urged voters on Thursday to keep an eye out for a referendum question that will appear on ballots next month seeking to amend the state constitution to allow early voting.

If approved by voters, the question would clear the way for the state legislature to pass a law joining Connecticut with 46 other states which permit some form of in-person voting ahead of Election Day. At the moment, the only other states without early voting are Alabama, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s a club we should not belong to,” Blumenthal said during a morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building. “We should provide early, in-person voting because there are a lot of people who have to be at work or take care of sick relatives or who may be disabled or caring for disabled people. They simply cannot get to the polls on that day — one day out of the year when voting is possible.”

Blumenthal appeared with Denise Merrill, former secretary of the state, as well as South Windsor Registrar of Voters Sue Larsen, who heads up the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, and West Hartford Town Clerk Essie Labrot. They said the option to vote in person ahead of Election Day would provide Connecticut residents more ways to make their voices heard.

However, Connecticut voters narrowly rejected a similar amendment back in 2014. Asked whether the state constitution should be amended to ease use of absentee ballots and allow a person to vote without appearing on Election Day, about voters 491,000 answered “No,” compared to 453,000 who voted “Yes.”

Proponents often attribute that question’s failure to confusing language and general unfamiliarity with the issue on the part of voters. Merrill said she hoped this year would be different.

“People were confused about it,” Merrill said of the 2014 vote. “Perhaps its time had not come. By now, since 46 states are doing it, people see it all the time in other states so they’re much more aware of it and also … since the pandemic people have become much more aware that they need more options.”

Not everyone sees expanding in-person voting days as a positive change for Connecticut elections, however. Although the legislature voted to put the question on the ballot with bipartisan support, some Republicans have expressed concerns about the amendment. 

For instance, Republican secretary of the state candidate Dominic Rapini has argued against the policy, in part due to the potential cost to municipalities that would be required to staff voting venues for a longer period of time. Rapini said those added expenses could cost towns millions, depending on the period of early voting permitted in the eventual law adopted by the legislature.

On Thursday, Larsen said elections make up a small part of every town’s budget and expanding access to the ballot was a cause worth the extra expense. 

“Elections are not cheap,” Larsen said. “They are one of the staples to our government and keeping a democracy going. So if it costs more to do early voting then we should do it. There shouldn’t be any question… If you’re adding on an extra day or two for early voting, or whatever the legislature decided, it is still worth every single penny”

Blumenthal, who is competing in November against Republican candidate Leora Levy for another term in office, agreed. He pointed to a federal military budget, which he expected to be funded at close to $900 billion. 

“Our greatest strength is the power of our example, not the example of our power,” Blumenthal said. “The power of our example is our democratic system and so what we spend on democracy is well worth that investment.”

Levy’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for her position on the early voting amendment.