The two-year state budget package expected to be adopted by the House on Monday “shortchanges” voters by failing to adequately fund Connecticut’s new early voting program, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said.
“You get the elections that you pay for, and this budget shortchanges Connecticut’s voters, pushes the burden of paying for Early Voting on to our towns, and removes funding to educate Connecticut’s citizens of how they can register and vote to participate in our democracy,” Thomas said in a statement Monday.
The budget includes $1.3 million for the Office of the Secretary of the State and around $1.8 million for Connecticut towns to implement the new early voting policy passed by both chambers of the legislature in the last several weeks.
The new policy, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Ned Lamont in the coming days, requires municipalities to offer 14 days of access to the polls ahead of general elections through at least one polling location per town.
The money in the budget amounts to $10,500 per town to support one location each.
During a press briefing Monday morning, House Speaker Matt Ritter said leaders had committed to subsidizing one location though the new policy allows municipalities to operate additional locations if they choose.
“We have never agreed to fund more than one. We might be willing to do that in the future but we were very clear that we’re not going to subsidize more than one,” Ritter said.
Early voting will not go into effect until next year and both Ritter and House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said additional funding could be allocated during the next legislative session, if necessary.
“Not only is there not enough money for the towns to implement it, I’m not sure it’s structurally set up so they actually can implement it,” Candelora said. “When towns start looking at how they’re going to do it, we need to hear back from them on what their needs are and make changes next session.”
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a lobby group for towns and cities, did not immediately respond to a Monday request for comment on the early voting funding levels.
The program generally requires towns to staff a polling location from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with longer hours during two days prior to the election. The policy includes shorter early voting durations before August primaries, presidential primaries and special elections.
The legislature chose a 14-day duration for general elections over the urging of Thomas, who had argued that a 10-day window would provide a better balance of accessibility and costs.
In May, several Connecticut mayors joined advocates outside the state Capitol to call on lawmakers to adequately fund the implementation of the policy. Many suggested that some municipalities would need to operate several polling locations to serve their populations.
The bill also tasks the secretary of the state with conducting a statewide public awareness campaign to educate voters on the new program. However, funding she requested to conduct the campaign has not been included in the budget.
In her statement, Thomas said the Office of the Secretary of State’s would continue to advocate for additional funding ahead of next year, saying Connecticut “could not afford to get this wrong.”
“I’ve said from the beginning of this process that the state shouldn’t pass Early Voting if we weren’t willing to pay for it, and that is, unfortunately, exactly the path the legislature has chosen. This budget only funds roughly half of the bare minimum that municipalities will need to successfully implement Early Voting,” Thomas said.