HARTFORD – House legislators passed a bill on Thursday that would allow early voting with 15 Republicans joining unanimous support from Democrats in favor of the measure.
Under HB 5004, voters would have 14 days to cast their ballots for primaries and general elections.
The State House passed the bill with 107 Democrats and Republicans in favor, and 35 Republicans opposed. If approved by the State Senate and Governor, Connecticut would join 46 other states that allow early voting. The law would apply to all elections on or after Jan. 1, 2024.
The bill comes after 60.5 percent of Connecticut voters supported an amendment to the State Constitution in the 2022 election requiring the legislature to provide early voting.
Republicans – both for and against the bill – told CT Examiner that they support the constitutional amendment, but wanted an improved bill.
“I voted for it solely because my town voted for it, and I felt compelled to respect their wishes,” said State Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull.
Rutigliano said his key issue with the bill is the 14-day voting period.
“Do it on a Saturday and Sunday to give people that work during the week an opportunity,” Rutigliano said. “I thought 14 [days] was just too much.”
Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat, supported the original text of the bill that gave her office the power to approve early voting locations and a 10-day voting period.
“[W]hile it would be nice to provide voters with an extended number of days, other
considerations exist, including not only the financial cost, but the physical toll on the election workers tasked with on-the-ground administration,” Thomas explained in her written testimony.
State Rep. Chris Aniskovich, R-Clinton, voted against the bill, citing Thomas’s February suggestion.
“I felt maybe we should be supporting her decision that she made and that she put forth. Fourteen [days] just seems to be a long time,” Aniskovich told CT Examiner.
He questioned whether poll workers in each of the 169 municipalities would be available to administer ballots for an additional 14 days.
“Ultimately, my no vote was there to show that – at least in my town, being part of the council here in Clinton – I support them,” Aniskovich said. “Because they are going to struggle, and it’s going to be a lot more work for the registrar [and] for the town clerks.”
House Democrats who spoke to CT Examiner stressed a need to modernize Connecticut elections.
“We’re modernizing Connecticut’s elections. Allowing early voting is about fairness, expanding access to the ballot, and convenience,” said State Rep. Rachel Khanna, D-Greenwich in an email to CT Examiner.
Senate Democrat Christine Cohen, of Madison, backed the bill, but acknowledged that there may be room for improvement.
“I’m pleased with the timeframe of 14 days that is established in this bill, but I am also keenly aware that town registrars have concerns about the logistics,” said Cohen in a message to CT Examiner. “I’m continuing to listen and working hard to also secure state funds for our towns so that this new opportunity doesn’t overly burden our election workers or municipal budgets.”
State Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, told CT Examiner that she supported the bill as written.
“Early voting is long overdue in Connecticut. With voting rights under attack across the country I’m glad here in Connecticut we are expanding democracy like the people want. When the bill comes to the Senate it will have my support,” Marx wrote in an email.
House legislators passed an amendment to the bill on Thursday which reduced early voting hours – from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. as outlined in the original committee bill – to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for the last Tuesday and Thursday before election day, when the hours would extend from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Legislators estimated that the curtailed hours would reduce the cost of the bill by $550,000.
In addition to the potential financial burden on municipalities and poll workers, some Republicans took issue with the early voting regulations themselves.
“The way that they developed it, [it’s] not really early voting. It’s early absentee balloting on steroids,” said Ben Proto, chair of the Connecticut Republican Party.
In order to vote early, registrars of voters would provide voters with an early voting ballot and envelope that they deposit into a “secured early voting ballot depository receptacle.” Proto questioned the difference between the early voting and current absentee ballot regulations.
“I can go in and say, ‘I’m not going to be available, I want an absentee ballot,’ fill out an application, fill out the ballot, put it in an envelope and hand it to the town clerk,” Proto said. “What’s the difference?”