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Sens. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, left, and Mae Flexer, D-Windham. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

The Senate gave final passage early Wednesday to a bill allowing voters 14 days to cast ballots ahead of general elections beginning next year, in a long-sought change to bring Connecticut in line with the vast majority of other states.

The in-person early-voting proposal will head to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk on a bipartisan 27-7 vote of the Senate. The House approved the legislation earlier this month.

Connecticut is currently one of just four states without an early in-person voting option. This year’s bill followed a resolution approved by state voters last year, which removed constitutional barriers to expanding voting beyond Election Day.

During a floor debate, Sen. Mae Flexer, a Windham Democrat who co-chairs the legislative committee on election policy, said the proposal enacted the will of the residents who approved the resolution. Flexer described interactions with voters who questioned Connecticut’s restrictive election policies.

“‘Everybody’s voting already and we can’t do that here. Why on earth is that? Why do I have to wait?’ Well,” she said, “in just a little over a year and a half, the voters in Connecticut will no longer have to wait, they will be able to participate in their democracy over a longer period of time just like happens in the overwhelming majority of states in the United States.”

Following Lamont’s expected endorsement, early voting will become available in 2024. The policy requires towns and cities to operate at least one polling location for a total of 14 days prior to a general election, seven days before an August primary election, and four days for a special election or presidential primary.

In opting for a 14-day general election window, lawmakers codified the longest of several proposals offered by Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, who had favored a shorter, 10-day period. Thomas, Connecticut’s top election official, praised the bill’s passage in an early morning statement.

“This is a pivotal moment for expanded voting access in Connecticut,” Thomas said. “Early voting will ensure all eligible voters have the flexibility they need to exercise their voting rights at the ballot box.”

The two-week window will encompass two weekends with polling locations generally open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Longer hours, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., will be offered on the Tuesday and Thursday before Election Day. Polls will not be open on the Monday immediately preceding Election Day.

The proposal received opposition from several Republican senators including Sen. Rob Sampson of Wolcott, who complained the bill failed to incorporate proposals from the minority party. 

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Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“Each time I’ve offered ideas, I’ve offered amendments and yet they fail on a party-line vote and ultimately the product we have before us is the majority’s version of early voting,” Sampson said.

Throughout the debate, he unsuccessfully attempted to incorporate some of those suggestions. For instance, one such amendment would have shortened the early voting period to three additional days if towns wished to implement them.

“It says to those towns: if you want to accommodate your voters, you can be open for three days out of five days prior to the election,” he said. “It should not cost anything or much more and if it does, that’ll be up to the towns themselves.”

Democratic lawmakers defeated that and other amendments on party-line votes. Flexer said that change could virtually eliminate early voting in towns where municipal offices were not open on Fridays or weekend days. 

However, the potential costs to municipalities implementing early voting has been a point of concern for members of both parties. Earlier this month, a coalition of mayors and advocates called upon the legislature to approve enough local aid to enable towns and cities to provide adequate polling locations.

Although the early voting bill includes no dedicated funding, a spending plan advanced by the Appropriations Committee included $3.5 million and House Speaker Matt Ritter has suggested the final budget would contain around $8 million.

In her statement, Thomas said the appropriate funding should accompany the bill.

“With the appropriate funding, I’m confident that my office and our local registrars and clerks will implement seamless, transparent, and accurate early voting beginning in 2024,” she said.