Though Connecticut lawmakers plan to pass an early voting policy in the next several weeks, that action will not leave enough time to implement additional voting days ahead of this year’s election, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said Wednesday.
Thomas, the state’s top election official, said the legislature’s expected vote, sometime after May 1, comes too late for a state vendor to make necessary updates to voting infrastructure including the Centralized Voter Registration System.
“The companies have asked for a certain amount of time to implement those changes and May 1 puts us past that deadline,” Thomas said in an interview. She said the date was a stretch to begin with. “Even May 1 was sort of a reluctant, ‘We can try to do it.’ Now that we’re definitely after May 1, I’m considering that a no-go.”
The delay means Connecticut voters will wait until 2024 to take advantage of voting options common in just about every other state.
Restrictive language in the state constitution has long prevented the legislature from adopting an early voting policy and left Connecticut as just one of four states with no option to cast ballots in person prior to Election Day. However, state voters overwhelmingly approved a resolution removing those barriers last year.
A legislative committee on election policy responded in March by advancing three similar proposals to implement the process and on Wednesday, Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the panel, said lawmakers were converging on one policy and anticipated putting it to a vote in the next few weeks.
“It’s going to be 14 days [of early voting], four days for special elections and the presidential preference primary,” Blumenthal said of the bill. “Referenda will not be included for early voting.”
Though that vote could come as soon as next week, it comes well after a date set by Thomas earlier this year. When she outlined her early voting recommendations in January, she requested that the legislature adopt a bill no later than March 31 if they wished to “adequately prepare” for this November.
In an email on Wednesday, Vernon Registrar Christopher Prue, the president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, said registrars across the state have been waiting on final details of the policy as well as the expected CVRS update.
“Another large issue is being able to recruit and train election officials that will run early voting,” Prue said. “The rollout of early voting is not going to be a one day process, in fact voters will also need time to learn the process.”
At the moment, funding is also an issue. The early voting proposals represents a major financial undertaking for municipalities. Earlier this month, legislative fiscal analysts projected that a 14-day voting period could cost towns and cities a total of around $4.4 million and as much as $9.2 million when state costs are factored in.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have vowed to include additional state funding to offset the municipal expenses, however recently advanced budget proposals fall barely under the state spending cap and a plan recommended last week by the Appropriations Committee included no funding for early voting in the current year.
At the time, the committee’s co-chair, Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, expressed doubt the program would be launched this year.
“Are they capable of starting it for the municipal elections? I don’t know that yet,” she said.
They were not, as it turns out. Still, the early voting policy which legislators were coalescing around will include both adequate time for local officials and funding to offset their expenses, Blumenthal said Wednesday.
In an interview, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Republican lawmakers had yet to be included in those conversations, despite some members voting in support of the early voting concept.
“It’s a bit disconcerting that something as important as voting, Democrats would make a partisan issue and close out the minority party from the discussion,” Candelora said. “I’m hoping that we will have time to read the bill and provide input because it affects all of us.”
Thomas, meanwhile, said she was disappointed that the policy would not be rolled out this year. Launching the program during a municipal election would give administrators an opportunity to test out the policy during a normally low-turnout election cycle. Next year’s presidential election is certain to draw more voters to the polls.
On the bright side, she said the delay would allow more time for public education and the recruitment of additional poll workers.
“It’s not all bad news,” Thomas said. “It was going to be a sprint and we were all prepared to run that race but now it’s a bit more of a marathon.”