A legislative panel on election policy heard testimony Wednesday on three bills to implement a range of early voting periods in Connecticut, one just four states where voters are not currently permitted to cast ballots in-person prior to Election Day.
Last November, state voters approved a ballot question which cleared away constitutional barriers to implementing early voting. Since then, legislators and policymakers have drafted several proposals describing how that may be put into practice.
Voters and state officials weighed in on three such bills Wednesday during a hearing of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee. The proposals consider early voting periods that range from as little as 10 days to as many as 18. A third bill would allow 14 days of early voting prior to Election Day.
Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the committee, said residents had tasked lawmakers with a mandate to deliver an early voting option.
“The voters of Connecticut, by an overwhelming, 20-point margin, indicated that they would like us to provide for early voting in this state,” Blumenthal said, “to ensure that they have convenience, safe, secure access to the ballot, not only on Election Day but on some days preceding that date.”
The three bills generally call for polls to be open on early voting days from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Rather than operate all normal polling places, the proposals allow municipalities to run one, central polling location on early voting days. Cities with a population of more than 45,000 may operate additional locations.
During the hearing, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, Connecticut’s top election official, said each of the bills would provide a foundation for expanding access for state voters.
“We believe all three versions are a solid starting point and include many of the secretary’s office logistical considerations and policy proposals that our election staff has weighed in on,” Thomas said. “This will help to create a program that can be instituted seamlessly while providing voters with greatly increased access to the ballot box.”
Earlier this year, Thomas recommended a 10-day early voting period including the weekend before the election based on the results of a third-party review of early voting policies across the country. Thomas told the committee it was important that all three proposals included funding for municipalities to offset the cost of administering additional polling hours.
Some of those local election officials weighed in Wednesday with concerns and recommendations of their own. In jointly-authored written testimony, Monroe’s Democratic and Republican registrars of voters said the early voting proposals should include provisions requiring both updates to the state’s Central Voter Registration System as well as additional funding for towns.
“[F]unding would be required for the following areas: extra staffing for expanded early voting hours; extra ballots as we will need to order at least 2 additional ballot styles for early voting/same day voting; early voting envelopes; police security for early voting location and ballot transfer to Town Clerk’s vault,” Registrars Katherin Briggs and Margaret Villani wrote.
Other potential costs identified by the officials included postage for communications and additional custodial expenses. Both said that an early voting period on referenda considered by two of the bills would be unworkable, given notification requirements in their town’s charter. The secretary of the state agreed in her own testimony before the committee.
Despite those financial and logistical concerns, written testimony submitted to the panel skewed overwhelmingly in favor of implementing early voting in Connecticut and advocacy groups like the ACLU of Connecticut and the state’s chapter of Common Cause urged lawmakers to approve a longer window for ballot-casting that included weekend hours.
“The data on early voting is clear: more flexibility for voters of all backgrounds means more participation, and more participation makes for a Connecticut that works for all of us,” Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, said.
During the hearing, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he was more inclined to support a smaller window of around three to five days.
Others submitted testimony opposing the initiative altogether.
“Whereas we have, as citizens of the great state of Connecticut voted successfully on one day, Election Day for the past several hundred years, I feel there is no reason to extend the voting period beyond Election Day,” Carol P. Cangiano wrote.
During her testimony, the secretary of the state suggested a strong majority of voters had disagreed.
“A whopping 60% of Connecticut’s voters have already answered that question and they want change,” Thomas said.