Connecticut took a step closer to joining 46 other states in offering early in-person voting Thursday when the House passed legislation permitting 14 days of access to the polls prior to Election Day.
The chamber sent the proposal to the Senate on a bipartisan, 107-35 vote following a more than four-hour floor debate that started at 3:20 p.m. and ran until 7:40 at night.
The bill will take effect in 2024, when municipalities will be required to operate at least one polling location for 14 days prior to a November general election, seven days ahead of an August primary election, and four days for a special election or presidential primary. Voters will be permitted to register to vote on early voting days except those ahead of primary elections.
Thursday’s action comes roughly six months after residents voted 60.5% to 39.5% to amend the state constitution, allowing the legislature to move forward with an early voting policy in Connecticut, which is currently one of just four states where residents do not have such an option.
“We saw this not only as a policy decision that we support but also as a mandate and an obligation, dictated to us from the voters,” Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, told reporters Thursday morning. “The voters have given us a charge. We’re making good on it today… It’s not often you take a poll officially at the ballot box to know how the voters of Connecticut feel.”
Blumenthal, who co-chairs the legislature’s election policy committee, said lawmakers opted for the most expansive of the proposals under consideration this year. The 14-day voting period will stretch over two weekends and generally require a polling location to be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with longer hours from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the Tuesday and Thursday before Election Day.
In choosing a 14-day window, the legislature has exceeded the recommendations of Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, Connecticut’s leading election official, who has argued that a 10-day voting period offered a better balance of greater turnout and increased costs to towns.
The voting period legislators chose was part of a balancing act, according to Blumenthal, who said the national average was 21 days.
“On the one hand, we’re kinda at the end of the line getting to the early voting party. We didn’t want to be at the bottom of the barrel as well,” he said.
Legislative fiscal analysts have estimated the new policy could cost as much as $9.2 million to implement with municipalities incurring costs of up to $4.4 million to run polling places and hire poll workers to staff the locations over a 14-day period. Lawmakers intend to offset those costs with as much as $8 million to be approved in the state budget, House Speaker Matt Ritter said.
The bill received opposition from many of the chamber’s Republicans, who said they were left out of negotiations over its terms. They also voiced concerns about both the scope of the legislation and the ability of municipalities to staff and implement the new program.
“Logistically, we’re concerned that too much has been bitten off and there should have been more baby steps taken in this process,” House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said.
Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to make changes to the bill, including an amendment that would have shortened the policy’s 14-day window to three days within a five-day period. Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, called reducing the timeframe a small step in the right direction.
“We want to provide early voting to the voters, as they requested, but 14 days really is a concern,” Mastrofrancesco said. “Let’s start off slow. You can always add to it, right? It’s kinda like cooking. You can always add a little bit more spice into it, but if you over-spice it you’re going to ruin it.”
The amendment failed on party lines after Blumenthal said it would have resulted in Connecticut being tied for the shortest early voting period in the nation. Later in the debate, the chamber also rejected another Republican amendment to shorten the window to the 10-day period recommended by the Secretary of the State.
Lawmakers expect changes to Connecticut’s early voting policy over time. Candelora, who voted in opposition to the bill in part due to process concerns, said he took solace in the fact that the legislature would have an opportunity to make alterations to the policy next session prior to the elections.
Blumenthal called the bill the beginning of a process in which policymakers would learn as they go.
“Ultimately, this bill is about one fundamental principle, about increasing access to voters and the franchise in the state of Connecticut as much as we can,” he said.
Following the bill’s passage, Thomas, the secretary of the state, issued a press release in which she thanked the House for its work and expressed optimism the Senate would soon follow suit.
“This is a momentous occasion for expanded voting access for eligible voters in Connecticut, and it is the product of hard work on the parts of many individuals,” Thomas said.