A legislative panel on election policy advanced three bills on Wednesday all intended to implement an early voting system allowed by a constitutional amendment approved overwhelmingly by Connecticut voters last year.
The Government Administration and Elections Committee approved the policies during a lengthy afternoon meeting. Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the panel, said proponents hoped to put the proposal before both the House and Senate in time to have an early voting option in place for this year’s election.
“I urge my colleagues to support this bill, which I believe and I think others believe — certainly the voters believe in so far as they approved the constitutional amendment — will expand access to the franchise in the state of Connecticut,” Blumenthal said.
Although the proposals are functionally similar, they do contain differences: two bills would create a 14-day early voting window while one would open polls for 10 days. All three bills would require a four-day window for special election voting but only two of them would also require the same window for referendum votes.
The bills provide for the polls to be open on weekend days prior to Election Day and generally open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. However, each proposal sets aside two days during which polling locations would offer early and later hours.
The proposals allow municipalities to operate one central polling location during early voting days rather than open every location normally available on Election Day. However, they also allow larger towns to offer additional polling places if those locations are approved by the Office of the Secretary of the State.
During the meeting, Rep. Christie Carpino, a Cromwell Republican who voted for the bill, said she was disappointed the election-focused committee opted to advance three separate bills to the wider legislature. She said the agenda read like a “choose your own adventure book.”
“I think it’s really detrimental and disingenuous to the voters. How are they to know which bill to follow? Which bill to put their efforts in? Which ones they should comment on,” Carpino said. “This building would grind to a halt if every complex and important issue that our committees raised issued or sent out three different versions.”
Blumenthal said he understood Carpino’s complaint but wanted to put an early voting bill in each of the legislature’s two chambers and viewed the number of bills as “a testament to the importance with which we view this issue.”
Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, questioned how the early voting proposals would dovetail with recent efforts to make absentee ballots more accessible. He argued that voters may be confused by the available voting options.
“My issue with all of this is in the zeal to expand so many different avenues for voting, I think we’ve made what is somewhat confusing out of the situation,” Sampson said. “It’s very duplicative, I mean, an argument can be made that we have early voting right now [through absentee ballots.]”
Sampson and Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, offered amendments to alter one of the proposals to shorten the period of early voting or require Connecticut residents to present a photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Another would have required an audit of early voting. The changes spurred lengthy debates before they were easily rejected by the committee’s Democratic members.