Luke Bronin
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin during a May 11, 2023 press conference on early voting funding Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A coalition of advocates and Connecticut mayors called Thursday on the legislature to provide adequate funding for towns and cities to implement the early voting policy that lawmakers expect to approve in the coming weeks. 

Members of the Make it Count Coalition crowed the north steps of state Capitol building to urge final passage of an early voting bill approved by the House last week and enough money for municipalities to open polls for an extra 14 days prior to Election Day. 

“Our democracy is better when everybody has a chance to cast their vote,” Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said. “In order to make sure that happens, we also have to make sure that communities of all sizes have the resources to implement early voting as fully and effectively as possible.”

However, just how much money represents an adequate amount of resources remains an open question. The bill passed by the House assumed a cost of around $2.6 million to municipalities next year, the first year when early voting will be available.

The proposal requires that municipalities operate at least one polling location for 14 days ahead of a general election with the option to provide more if necessary. 

The bill did not specify funding levels, which are expected to be included in the state budget. And although a spending plan approved by the legislature’s Appropriations Committee allocated $3.5 million to implementing early voting, House Speaker Matt Ritter has since said he expects the final budget will include somewhere around $8 million for those purposes. 

“If they go above and beyond or they have their own issues, we can’t promise that every penny gets covered but the price tag of $8 million seems reasonable,” Ritter said.

On Thursday, advocates argued that one polling location may be insufficient in both populous cities and geographically broad municipalities. Callie Gale Heilmann, president of Bridgeport Generation Now, said Bridgeport required at least three early polling places. 

“We are very clear that the city of Bridgeport and cities like Hartford and New Haven, they must have multiple sites,” she said. “It’s not a ‘may.’ They must. And we also know that, without a mandate, cities may not.”  

Advocates worried that without an adequate number of polling locations, voters may encounter crowds at the early polls. John Erlingheuser, advocacy director of the Connecticut AARP, said lines posed problems for older voters. 

“Many older voters with physical limitation, they lack access to transportation to be able to get to a voting location, they can’t stand in long lines and that puts participation in the electoral process at risk,” Erlingheuser said. 

Democratic leaders have said they opted to mandate only one polling location in an effort to provide towns and cities a measure of flexibility as they launch the new program. During a press availability earlier this month, House leaders said they expected the additional voting days would serve to reduce wait times at the polls. 

“This is going to take the pressure off Election Day registration, it’s going to be over 14 days. There’s going to be lots of times for people to come in,” Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, said. “I tend to think it will probably be a steady flow throughout, but certainly not lines during early voting.”

During Thursday’s press conference, advocates said it was difficult to determine how much money would be needed to fund adequate polling locations, but they viewed $8 million as the minimum amount. 

“Ultimately, what we want is … people to be able to express their rights to vote their values and the state should fund it,” said Melvin Medina, policy and advocacy vice president at the Connecticut Project Action Fund. “Eight million is less than .001% of the state biennial budget. We’re not talking about a lot of money here, people, in the context of what we’re trying to do for this democracy.”