A plan to reschedule Connecticut’s presidential primary to the first Tuesday in April is on track for an awkward collision with the state’s new early voting law and has some local election officials worried about staffing polling places around a holiday weekend.
State lawmakers plan to return to Hartford for a special session on Sept. 26 in order to pass a bipartisan bill which moves the primary from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday of the month.
Next year, that date will fall on April 2, just two days after Easter and four days after Good Friday. Next year also marks the start of Connecticut’s new early voting law, which requires municipalities to operate polling places for four days before a presidential preference primary.
The new early voting law accounted for the possibility the primary would be moved. Legislators specifically required early voting periods to be adjusted around March 31, 2024 and more generally any legal state holiday, which would include Good Friday on March 29.
That means the voting period for Connecticut’s 2024 presidential preference primary would include the preceding Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday as well as the Tuesday of the election.
Joan Ives-Parisi, a Republican registrar of voters in Wallingford, worries polling locations may be difficult for election administrators to staff, particularly given the holiday weekend.
“Even though Holy Saturday isn’t a legal holiday, those are three very important days to the Christian population and trying to get anyone to work is going to be probably almost impossible,” Ives-Parisi said in an interview Thursday.
Finding qualified volunteers to work municipal polling locations can already be difficult given that many of the available workers are older and retired. Many may also have family or religious obligations given the primary dates’ proximity to the Christian holidays, she said.
“That whole weekend, it’s a family weekend for a lot of people,” she said. “It’s going to cause a lot of problems for us.”
Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs a legislative panel on election policy, said lawmakers did their best to balance those concerns with efforts to expand access to the polls and increase Connecticut’s impact on national presidential politics.
Advocates of an earlier primary date argue that presidential primary contests are often more or less decided before Connecticut gets to weigh in on the last Tuesday in April.
“We have to balance the importance of Connecticut’s voice being heard in the presidential primary process against any staffing difficulties that may arise from the timing,” Blumenthal said. “This arrangement balances those two. Connecticut voters will have a much more significant say in the presidential primary as a result and, while there may be some marginal additional difficulty in finding staff, the fact that we’ve exempted the two most significant days should ameliorate those issues.”
Chris Prue, the Democratic registrar of voters in Vernon and president of the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, said the holiday weekend has been on the radar of election officials since policymakers began drafting early voting proposals during the legislative session earlier this year.
“We knew that the Holy Week would be impacted which is why we worked with leadership to exempt those days,” Prue said in an email Thursday. “Regardless of if there is a special session and if the dates get moved or not we will be willing and able to take on the task of early voting. We are working very closely with the Secretary of the State’s office to implement early voting the best way we can.”
Though the intersection of the two policy changes may add a wrinkle to the first early voting experience of many Connecticut residents, Blumenthal said policymakers always expect a certain amount of growing pains whenever new initiatives are implemented. He said legislators stood ready to make adjustments as necessary.
“We believe we balanced those concerns to the greatest extent with the knowledge we have at the moment,” Blumenthal said. “Certainly, we expect there to be lessons learned as we implement early voting and we stand ready to make any changes required.”
Meanwhile, Ives-Parisi said local election officials would endeavor to make sure polling locations are ready for voters.
“It’s going to be an arduous task but I’m sure that all the registrars in the state will do their very best to get everything staffed and make sure that this early voting goes smoothly for the voters,” she said. “It’s just going to be a difficult job for all of us.”