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As national election looms, CT towns say they need more money for early voting

A sign reminding voters they can cast their votes early in the April 2 presidential primary in Connecticut was placed outside the Stonington Town Hall in Stonington, Conn., on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. The four-day early voting period marks the first time voters can cast their votes early and in-person in Connecticut.
Susan Haigh
/
AP
A sign reminding voters they can cast their votes early in the April 2 presidential primary in Connecticut was placed outside the Stonington Town Hall in Stonington, Conn., on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. The four-day early voting period marks the first time voters can cast their votes early and in-person in Connecticut.

Concerns over who will fund early voting in Connecticut are back in discussion at the state Capitol.

The discussions come ahead of a high-stakes presidential election in November, with some town leaders decrying an initial funding allocation from the state, which they say is inadequate to fund staffing and equipment needs for early voting.

The state allocated $10,500 in last year’s budget to each of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns to implement early voting. But leaders in several Connecticut municipalities said they will need much more help than that initial grant.

“We will definitely burn through the money provided by the state,” said Nick Lukiwsky, the First Selectman of Barkhamsted. “Manpower really seems to be the biggest issue and just having people be there for that many days.”

Lukiwsky said in his town, only a few dozen people cast their ballots early. The primary had low turnout statewide, as expected, but across the U.S. more people are casting their ballots early in-person, especially as more states offer the option.

Early voting debuted in late March with the presidential primary. The law mandates at least one polling location per municipality a week before primaries, and two weeks before a general election.

'The cost burden falls on the local taxpayers'

As early voting rolls out statewide, city and town leaders are weighing in on its impacts.

Nearly a third of the cities and towns recently expressed their concerns over early voting on a survey the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities sent to local leaders in early March.

Respondents reported a strain on resources and labor to meet the requirements for early voting — everything from having to scrap together funds for extra storage cabinets and tables to buying snacks for poll workers.

In small towns with part-time election staffing, those strains can be particularly pronounced, town leaders said.

“Being a registrar or working at elections is not their full-time job,” said Elaine Sistare, Town Administrator of Putnam, in an email. “These big changes have been monumental for them, and the increases in responsibility and high-level management have been significant.”

“This is another example of a state policy mandate that is either unfunded or partially funded,” said Steve Stephanou, Town Manager of Manchester, in a statement. “As a result, the cost burden falls on the local taxpayers and specifically property taxes.”

When asked about anticipated costs of extra staffing for the rest of 2024 early voting, respondents’ answers ranged from a couple thousand dollars, to $70,000.

Lawmakers unsure about need for more money

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas requested $5 million from the legislature at the start of the session to help municipalities.

Last week, House Speaker Matt Ritter said lawmakers wouldn’t consider more adjustments to the current budget for early voting until next session, but has softened his stance since. On Thursday, Republican state lawmakers unveiled their own budget adjustment plan, with $3.6 million earmarked for early voting.

When asked to respond to the proposal, Ritter told reporters lawmakers will consider funds for the measure and that the GOP's figure is “still high” but said, “we'll see what we can do.”

However, the deadline for budget adjustments is fast-approaching: Ritter said those are expected to be finalized next week.

“I’m encouraged to hear that the legislature is talking about allocating funding that will help Connecticut put its best foot forward and ensure a smooth rollout of early voting regardless of zip code,” Secretary Thomas said in a statement.

Ritter has also repeatedly said lawmakers will be able to better evaluate the cost and use of early voting after this year.

“We'll have at that point, three different iterations of early voting that we will look at and hopefully be able to quantify those numbers and come back to the legislature when they open up when they start a new biennium budget process next January,” said Randy Collins, associate director of Public Policy at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

The next Connecticut election is a primary, with early voting held Aug. 5-11. Registered voters can also cast their ballots early for the general election from Oct. 21 through Nov. 3.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. She has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.

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