Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas addresses lawmakers on the opening day of the 2023 legislative session Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas recommended Thursday that the legislature adopt an early voting policy by the end of March that includes a 10-day window for casting ballots and adequate funding for municipalities to implement the policy by November.

Connecticut voters approved a constitutional amendment last year removing a barrier that had prevented lawmakers from approving an early in-person voting program. Currently, the state is one of just four with no option to visit a polling place ahead of Election Day.

Thomas, a former legislator who was sworn in as the state’s leading election official earlier this month, submitted her recommendations to the General Assembly along with the results of a third-party study which reviewed election policies in every state and developed several in-person voting models for Connecticut.

“You now have the important task of shaping legislation that provides increased access to voters, creates minimal strain on our municipalities and election officials, and is easily understood by the public,” Thomas wrote in a letter to lawmakers. 

The study was commissioned by the Secretary of the State’s Office in 2021 and conducted by the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research. It identified four early voting models for Connecticut to consider with voting durations ranging from six days to as many as 14 days. 

The models contemplate a wide range of possible early voting locations with recommendations as simple as one early polling place per municipality. Other models scale the number of polling locations based on population. For instance, municipalities with more than 60,000 residents may be required to operate additional locations while towns with fewer than 2,000 people may pool their resources with neighboring communities and jointly open one polling place.

In her own recommendations, Thomas called for an early voting duration of 10 days that includes hours during both weekends and weekdays leading up to Election Day. She also recommended that the legislature provide financial support to municipalities and pass a bill on early voting prior to March 31 in order to give local officials enough time to prepare for this year’s elections in November. 

“It is imperative that any program be fully funded by the state to cover the costs of training materials, staff time, ballots and envelopes, chain of custody storage equipment, municipal technological upgrades, and any other incurred expenses,” Thomas wrote.

Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said the report would help lawmakers integrate the experiences of other states as they craft an early voting policy in Connecticut.

“We have already been engaging with a bunch of stakeholders including the Secretary of the State’s Office on how to structure early voting in Connecticut and will continue to do so,” Blumenthal said. “We look forward to their contributions in those meetings and also in public hearings.”

In an interview, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said pushing to implement the program this year seemed unrealistic. He said suggesting deadlines before the legislature heard from town registrars and clerks demonstrated arrogance on the part of state policymakers. 

“[Towns] are the stakeholders that need to be brought to the table,” Candelora said. “I think it’s just a mistake to try to get this done and implemented by November. It’s very aggressive.” 

Candelora said many municipalities would likely need to replace aging voting machines in order to offer additional days of voting. Meaning unless the state declines to assist towns with upgrades, the early voting legislation would come with financial implications tying it to the state budget and complicating passage prior to the end of March. 

If possible, Blumenthal said it would be better if Connecticut could offer its first early voting opportunity this year, when no statewide offices will be on the ballot and turnout is traditionally lower.

“Ultimately our goal is to create as much access as early as possible while insuring the system runs smoothly,” he said.

On Friday, Chris Prue, Vernon’s Democratic Registrar of Voters and president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, said having an early voting policy in place by this November would take some work but was not out of the question. 

“There is a potential for it, but we would need to have several technology and legislative updates happen before that could even take place,” Prue said. 

For instance, Prue said the state-maintained Centralized Voter Database would require significant technological upgrades in order for early voting to work with the tabulators currently utilized by towns. While those upgrades are already underway, other changes will also be required. 

“Right now it’s too early to tell exactly what changes will be needed but we do know that the state election calendar and registration deadlines will need to be addressed, funding for the process and many other potential changes to questions that will come up or are already on the table today,” Prue said in an email.