Connecticut joined the vast majority of other states last week when the governor signed legislation allowing early in-person voting. State officials and advocates celebrated increased ballot access on Tuesday.
Dignitaries including state legislators and Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas gathered in the state Capitol’s Old Appropriations Room to watch Gov. Ned Lamont sign a ceremonial copy of the bill Tuesday afternoon.
“We can vote and we can vote with integrity,” Lamont said during the event. “We can join the other 45 states or whatever it is and get it done. So let’s sign the bill.”
His signature capped a more than a decade-long process to remove Connecticut from a tiny group of states — now, just Alabama, New Hampshire, and Mississippi– that do not allow voters to cast ballots in person before Election Day.
“It gets such broad-based support for such a good idea. What the heck took so long?” Lamont said.
The effort required multiple votes of the legislature to send residents two different ballot resolutions to remove restrictions from the state constitution. On the second try, voters endorsed the effort. Last year, more than 60% of voters approved the question, clearing the way for this year’s bill.
Beginning next year, towns and cities will be required 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.
The bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly with limited bipartisan support. Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s election policy committee, remarked on Connecticut’s reputation for resisting change.
“We may be the ‘land of steady habits,’ but we’re developing some new habits now and I look forward to voting early with you,” he said.
Tuesday’s speakers included former Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, a former secretary of the state. Both worked to advance the policy over their careers. Lamont joked that Thomas, Connecticut’s current election chief, “got it done.”
Thomas thanked voters for approving the resolution and legislators for passing the bill. “We heard loud and clear that an early voting program is necessary for a modern civic life,” she said.
Late in the legislative session, Thomas voiced concerns that the two-year state budget, which the governor signed into law this week, did not include enough money for local election administrators to implement the new early voting program.
At $1.8 million in extra local election funding, the budget attempts to provide towns and cities with enough money to run one early voting polling location per municipality. Some advocates have argued that some municipalities, particularly larger cities, should operate additional polling locations.
The budget also included $1.3 million for Thomas’s office to oversee the rollout of the new program but no funding to support a statewide public awareness campaign called for in the early voting law.
On Tuesday, Lamont assured reporters the early voting program would receive enough support to launch successfully during next year’s elections.
“We’ll do what it takes to make sure the program gets implemented appropriately,” Lamont said. “We are partners with our municipalities. They do have unprecedented amount of aid there but we’re going to do our part as well and when it comes to public relations campaigns, to make sure people know they can early vote, we’ll be making our case and I guarantee you every campaign in the state is going to be loud and clear how we can make sure that you can exercise your full right to vote and vote early.”