In November 2022, Connecticut voters overwhelmingly voted to amend the state Constitution to allow early voting, making Connecticut one of the very last states to modernize its elections in this way. In effect, voters imposed a mandate on the legislature and municipalities: to make early voting a reality.
In order to do so, the legislation that implements this reform should be enacted and paid for by the state, lest this becomes just another unfunded mandate passed along to the 169 cities and towns. We need two full weeks of early voting, including some evenings and both weekends during that period. The experiences of other states have shown that Saturday is the most popular day of the week for those who choose to cast a ballot prior to Election Day. We also need enough funding so that municipalities can open enough polling places to make early voting a reality for all eligible citizens.
As legislative leaders and Gov. Ned Lamont begin adjusting the many moving parts of this year’s biennial budget, it is critical that money be earmarked for this important voting reform. This means that cities and towns with more than 20,000 eligible voters must be given funding to open two or more polling places, depending on the size of the population.
While there is no expectation that all polling places be open for early voting, if big cities and larger towns do not open enough locations — particularly in areas easily reached by public transit — early voting could be inaccessible to a large portion of their population, particularly those with limited access to transportation.
Because of the budgetary spending cap, it’s become apparent that early voting will not be inaugurated in time for the November municipal elections. Legislative leaders insist that there isn’t the money to make it happen. That’s unfortunate because a trial run would have been helpful in working out the bugs in a year in which there are traditionally fewer voters than in state elections.
As of now, $3.5 million has been set aside for roughly two weeks of early voting in 2024, a presidential election year. That amount is subject to change as procedural refinements are made. However, introducing an entirely new system of voting in a year in which turnout is expected to be extremely high is, at best, a dicey proposition. State and local officials must take great care to educate the voting public and ensure that the new system runs smoothly.
The point of the Constitutional amendment adopted in 2022 is to make this fundamental democratic right, the right to vote, fully accessible to all eligible voters in Connecticut. People who work more than one job, those with mobility issues, those who commute long distances, and others who find it impossible to get to the polls on a single day, are counting on it, as their affirmative vote last November indicated.
It is entirely possible to devise a well-functioning and accessible system of early voting as most other states have done. The General Assembly and Gov. Lamont owe this much to Connecticut voters.
Diana Evans is a member of the Advisory Board of Common Cause in Connecticut and a retired Professor of Political Science at Trinity College in Hartford.