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Connecticut House passes early in-person voting bill

Ryan Caron King

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut voters would have 14 days to cast ballots early in general elections under a bill that cleared the House of Representatives late Thursday, moving the state closer to ending its reputation of having some of the strictest voting rules in the U.S.

The legislation, which also allows seven early voting days for most primaries and four for presidential primaries and special elections, comes six months after voters approved a constitutional amendment that essentially gave the Democratic-controlled General Assembly the go-ahead to create a new, in-person early voting system.

“Not for nothing are we called the ‘land of steady habits,’” said Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, referring to the state's often-used slogan.

“For much of our almost three centuries of existence as a state, we have had some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country,” he said. “And that is a principle that does not align with the values of our state.”

Connecticut's constitution for many years has dictated the time, place and manner of elections, essentially requiring voters to cast ballots at their local polling place on Election Day unless they qualified for absentee ballots. And that option is limited to specific excuses, such as being out of town on Election Day, active military service or sickness, a provision added during the pandemic.

Connecticut is one of only four states in the U.S. without pre-Election Day in-person voting.

Advocates for early voting say busy people want options for when they can cast ballots, while some critics have questioned whether it's financially worthwhile. The state of Connecticut is expected to cover the cost of the early voting initiative, estimated to be about $4.5 million.

During debate Thursday, Rep. Gayle Mastrofrancesco, R-Wolcott, and other Republicans raised concerns about whether the state's 169 cities and towns can find enough staff to offer 14 days of early voting.

“We have a hard time trying to finding people to help out just for one day,” said Mastrofrancesco, who called for reducing the number of early voting days to three within a five-day window. She proposed an amendment that would have changed the number, but it failed.

She and other Republicans also complained that many details of the new system have not yet been ironed out.

“There's a lot of unanswered questions,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford.

Blumenthal, who is also co-chair of the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, acknowledged that lawmakers will need to pass additional legislation concerning the system.

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, a Democrat, has said there is not enough time to implement early voting for this fall's elections.

Under the bill, cities and towns, which run elections in Connecticut, will decide how many early voting sites they want to offer. The measure only requires that at least one be included in each municipality's plan, which must be approved by the Secretary of the State's Office.

The bill passed in the House on a 107-35 vote and awaits action in the Senate. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign it into law.

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