Signs outside a polling place in Somers. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

With Connecticut lawmakers preparing to craft an early voting law in the coming legislative session, the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union signaled Tuesday it would push for a voting window of around 14 days.

Voters in November gave the state legislature permission to pass an early voting policy when they approved a ballot question, amending constitutional language which had previously prevented the practice. Currently, Connecticut is one of just four states without an option to vote in person prior to Election Day and the details of the state’s policy still need to be decided.

“Connecticut voters didn’t vote to institute a particular early voting plan when we voted in November,” Jess Zaccagnino, the ACLU’s policy counsel, said during a Tuesday forum that outlined the group’s legislative priorities including voting rights and criminal justice reforms.

“We just gave the legislature the ability to pass laws about early voting, which means it’s up to us to keep up the pressure on legislators to pass an equitable early voting law this session,” Zaccagnino said.

Although it remains to be seen how long a period of early voting policymakers will opt to allow, advocates at the ACLU called for a window of 14 days. Zaccagnino said a study by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that states with a period of two weeks saw a boost in voter turnout.

“Approximately 14 days of early voting is the optimal amount of time to maximize early voting turnout,” she said. “Any less than that and participation starts to drop off.”

A proposal for a two-week voting window would likely face some pushback in the state legislature, where lawmakers will look to balance priorities like optimizing voter turnout with the logistical concerns of the 169 municipalities that will be tasked with implementing whatever policy is adopted. 

Last month, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora worried how towns will staff even a considerably smaller early voting window

“One thing that we are experiencing is it’s hard for registrars to even get moderators for Election Day,” Candelora said. “So if we’re going to be opening the polls for a five-day period, what is that going to look like in terms of manpower to operate those polls?”

Legislators will also consider policy proposals from the secretary of the state, Connecticut’s top voting official. Following her election last month, incoming Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said she expected a narrower window of a few days.

In a Wednesday interview, Thomas said she was continuing to consider her recommendations through conversations with stakeholders from Connecticut and other states. She was also awaiting the results of a study on the issue commissioned by her predecessor.

Considerations go well beyond the number of days voting will be permitted, Thomas said. If policymakers settle on an early voting location that’s already open for business, say a town hall, more voting days would be easier to absorb. Other states offer a broad span of days but a limited window of hours in which polls are open, she said. 

“I’m definitely keeping my ear towards various communities that would have to implement the policy — the municipalities, the towns — to come up with something that’s workable and fundable,” Thomas said. 

It was also important that whatever policy is adopted be workable in every Connecticut municipality, she said. “We want to make sure whatever structure we set up, we’re not creating a situation where some towns can implement it and some towns can not,” she said.

During Tuesday’s ACLU event, Zaccagnino stressed the importance of offering early voting hours that catered to the schedules of working people by providing ballot access during evening and weekend hours. The Sunday prior to Election Day was especially important in Black faith communities, where leaders often organize “souls to the polls” efforts designed to coordinate transportation for worshippers wishing to cast ballots, she said.

“Studies of states with early voting days on the Sunday before the election have found that the day that was by far the most popular early voting day for Black voters was those Sundays, showing that this is also a racial justice issue, making sure that whatever early voting plan we have is inclusive,” Zaccagnino said.

Thomas said she has found broad consensus that some form of weekend voting should be included in the early voting period, though she had yet to settle on whether it should be the weekend immediately prior to an election, when local officials might be conducting necessary work between the close of an early voting period and Election Day.

“What’s very heartening is that every stakeholder that I’ve spoken with — even those that I thought might be concerned about weekend hours — all agree that to fully reap the benefit of early voting, weekends should be included,” she said.