By Mark Pazniokas / CTMirror.org
Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas has made her first policy recommendation, urging legislators to pass a law authorizing 10 days of early voting, beginning with the 2023 municipal elections.
One of only four states not allowing early in-person voting, Connecticut is primed for change after voters in last November’s election approved constitutional amendment striking a prohibition against expanding the days of voting.
“You now have the important task of shaping legislation that provides increased access to voters, creates minimal strain on our municipalities and election officials, and is easily understood by the public,” Thomas wrote to lawmakers Thursday.
Thomas, a supporter of early voting who was elected in November and took office two weeks ago, made her recommendation in a letter to lawmakers attached to a state-by-state study of early voting commissioned by her office. The secretary of the state serves as Connecticut’s chief elections officer.
Before being elected secretary of the state, Thomas, a Norwalk Democrat, held the seat in the 143rd state House of Representatives District, which includes part of Westport.
The study by the Center for Election Innovation & Research found that the length of early voting in statewide general elections ranged from three to 46 days, with uniform standards in some states and town-by-town flexibility in others.
“These periods can begin as early as 50 days before election day or as late as only five days in advance,” the study found.
A half-dozen bills concerning early voting already have been referred to the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee. They would authorize as few as two days and as many as 14.
The center offered four models for Connecticut to consider, with early voting periods of six, nine, 10 and 14 days. Hours of voting could vary based on the size of a community, with one central polling place.
Whatever model is adopted, Thomas urged lawmakers to provide state funding to cover added costs to municipalities.
“It is imperative that any program be fully funded by the state to cover the costs of training materials, staff time, ballots and envelopes, chain of custody storage equipment, municipal technological upgrades and any other incurred expenses,” she wrote.
State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said committee members already are in early talks with stakeholders, including Thomas.
“The report itself is very helpful in bringing together all the practices and laws that different states have adopted,” Blumenthal said.
The committee has yet to hold a substantive meeting. A first task will be to draft one or more versions of an early voting bill and schedule a public hearing.
Thomas has asked for final passage by the end of March to allow municipalities time to prepare. The GAE committee has a deadline of March 29 for reporting bills to the floor of the House or Senate.