Early Voting Here sign
Credit: flysnowfly / Shutterstock

The 2022 election in Connecticut was more unpleasant and eventful than any other in recent memory. It seemed like the process went on forever – to the point that everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Nov. 8 rolled around, if for no other reason than it relieved us of having to view fevered candidate ads telling us how “extreme,” “radical” and “dangerous” their opponents were. Come for the thrill of the contest; stay for the insults and logical fallacies.

Nevertheless, we of the chattering classes are not done with our post-mortems. There are still ramifications, implications, and consequences to sort out. To wit, largely lost in the Bob vs. Ned duel and the Logan-Hayes dust-up was the important but unsexy subject of early voting.

In a rare ballot item that will amend the state constitution, nearly 60% of the electorate approved a measure that will allow them to vote in advance of elections without applying for an absentee ballot that requires an excuse. The measure now heads to the General Assembly, where lawmakers will hammer out a bill. 

In a breath of fresh air after a rancorous election season, the concept is said to have some bipartisan support on Capitol Avenue. It does not enjoy such accord in many other locales. A Pew survey conducted last year found that since 2018, the share of Republicans who say any voter should be allowed to vote early or absentee without a documented reason fell from 57% to 38%. 

Democrats – and unaffiliated voters who lean Democratic – support no-excuse early voting by 84%. That percentage has remained virtually unchanged over the years. Surprisingly, progressive Connecticut is one of just four states along with Alabama, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, that do not allow some form of no-excuse early voting.

The cynic in me suggests that support for early voting, or lack thereof, is tied strictly to politics. Democrats think greater turnout in any form increases their chances of winning. Objecting Republicans feel the same way, or they assert, without convincing evidence, that early voting is more susceptible to fraud than the in-person, same-day variety.

Incoming Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said she expects a proposal to be crafted allowing for a limited window for early voting – perhaps up to five days. She anticipates presenting it to lawmakers in January at the start of the legislative session with an eye toward implementation in time for the 2024 election. I would add that any early voting bill should include additional funding for towns and allow them to begin counting ballots before election day. Otherwise, the announcements of vote tallies will be further delayed.

I’ve spoken to some Republicans who support early voting but are not comfortable with the idea of leaving it to the General Assembly to craft the legislation. I tend to agree, but this is what happens when ballot items are passed. As was the case when Massachusetts voters legalized cannabis in 2016, it was left to lawmakers on Beacon Hill to hammer out the specifics because you can’t possibly fit all of them onto a ballot. The devil, as we are often reminded, is in the details.

Stefanowski’s Union Support

We are always reminded by party officials and observers that a key element of Democratic success in Connecticut’s elections lies in the party’s ability to maintain a lock on the support of organized labor. Much to the annoyance of Republicans and many unaffiliated voters, Democrats have always been more sympathetic to the needs of labor, especially the state employee unions.

Republican governors in the past have often had a contentious relationship with them, especially John Rowland, who 20 years ago retaliated against state employee unions by illegally laying off several thousand state workers, prompting a lawsuit that cost Connecticut more than $100 million in settlements.

But there are segments of organized labor where Republican candidates often collect endorsements, most notably police unions. This year was an especially good year for such endorsements because of widespread opposition from law enforcement to the police accountability law passed in 2020 following several instances of police brutality around the nation that same year.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski and GOP Senate candidate Leora Levy pandered to the cops, coming out strongly against portions of the bill, especially the limiting of “qualified immunity,” which they said would expose officers to frivolous lawsuits and prevent them from doing their jobs. Stefanowski called the bill unnecessary and “politically driven.”

Stefanowski and his running mate, Laura Devlin, continued to hammer away on the law-and-order issue, insisting that crime was rising when in fact the State Police’s own statistics were showing the opposite.

Not surprisingly, the Connecticut Fraternal Order of Police, and unions representing municipal cops in some of the state’s largest cities endorsed the Stefanowski-Devlin ticket. The CSP union had endorsed Lamont in 2018, but withdrew it this time around.

As Hearst’s Ken Dixon pointed out in an analysis, the Republican strategy failed miserably. Lamont won this year by nearly 12 points, more than tripling his margin of victory against Stefanowski four years earlier.

How could this happen? It was likely a combination of factors. Federal COVID relief funds swelled the state’s coffers, blunting the effectiveness of Republican attacks on the state’s fiscal stability. Connecticut Republicans – fairly or unfairly – were also tainted by the specter of former President Donald Trump’s reign of political terror and the Supreme Court’s Hobbs decision that effectively overturned Roe v. Wade and eliminated abortion as a constitutional right.

Gas Tax Reprieve

Inflation and high energy costs should have been a much greater political liability for the incumbent governor, but Lamont was able to blunt them with the extra funds in the state treasury. Perhaps as a result, back in March he got the House and Senate to pass a bipartisan bill temporarily suspending the state’s 25-cent excise tax on gasoline – and adding free bus service.

The gas-tax holiday was supposed to end on June 30 but Lamont and lawmakers extended it until Nov. 30. The timing of the expiration was a naked political stunt, coming as it did on the heels of the election. But it had the desired effect.

I usually buy gas in Massachusetts but have filled up in Connecticut for months because we are actually underselling the Bay State for the first time in what seems like decades. With inflation at 7.7%, Lamont wants to get the General Assembly into a special session to extend the tax break through the winter and phase it out later.

Policy Engineer Ken Girardin, of the The Empire Center for Public Policy Inc., tweets that continuing the gas tax holiday "would be an irresponsible move on its own. If CT pols want to continue this tax break (a pre-election gimmick), they should link it to cost savings on infrastructure projects."
Credit: Screengrab via Twitter / @PolicyEngineer Ken Girardin, of the The Empire Center for Public Policy Inc.

I share policy analyst Ken Girardin’s concerns and like his idea of linking the extension to identifying cost savings. After all, if lawmakers are addicted to spending, they can become equally addicted to the political benefits of cutting unpopular taxes, perhaps further imperiling the already-shaky special transportation fund.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this op-ed stated that the Connecticut State Police Union endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski this year. However, that was in error. The Connecticut State Police Union, which endorsed Ned Lamont in 2018, opted to withdraw its support for Lamont this year without endorsing any gubernatorial candidates.

Terry Cowgill

Terry Cowgill

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at PolitiConn and is the retired managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill or email him at tcowgill90@wesleyan.edu.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or any of the author's other employers.