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‘It’s time for us to catch up’: Mayors, advocates call on CT lawmakers to fully fund early voting

CT Palestine Solidarity Coalition organizer Nigel Harris holds a stack of flyers encouraging voters to choose “uncommitted” on their ballot to voice their dissent to Joe Biden’s policy on Gaza.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
CT Palestine Solidarity Coalition organizer Nigel Harris holds a stack of flyers encouraging voters to choose “uncommitted” on their ballot to voice their dissent to Joe Biden’s policy on Gaza. “Joe Biden needs to be held accountable,” Harris said. “We are sick of the lesser of two evils.”

Connecticut mayors and voting rights advocates rallied at the state Capitol in Hartford Thursday to call on the General Assembly to fully fund next year’s implementation of in-person early voting without passing costs onto local governments.

“We are going to need the funding at the local level,” said Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim, a Democrat who said he strongly supports early voting. “If we are going to continue in Connecticut to govern on the basis of 169 towns, those 169 towns need the support to implement the laws that are being brought down by the state of Connecticut and by our legislature.”

The rally was organized by the Make It Count Coalition, which counts among its members the Connecticut Project Action Fund; Bridgeport GenerationNow Votes; and the state chapters of AARP, the ACLU, and the League of Women Voters, among others.

Last year, Connecticut voters approved a measure to get the state off the list of just four states without in-person early voting. A bill working its way through the legislature would implement 14 days of early voting, beginning next year, but funding is still being negotiated as part of state budget talks.

Melvin Medina with the Connecticut Project Action Fund said the group was requesting an allocation of $8 million, a sum the coalition said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, had agreed to.

“The state should fund it – $8 million is less than .001% of the state biennial budget,” Medina said. “We’re not talking about a lot of money here, people, in the context of what we’re trying to do for this democracy.”

Rep. Matt Blumenthal, a Stamford Democrat who co-chairs the state's Government Administration and Elections Committee and led passage of an early voting bill that passed the House last week, said Thursday he was confident the legislature would avoid passing costs onto municipalities, but the dollar amount was still being negotiated.

John Erlingheuser, senior advocacy director for AARP in Connecticut and former registrar of voters in Ansonia, said location is key in choosing early voting sites, and that the sum ultimately budgeted must cover multiple sites per municipality.

“In some areas, polling places are located equitably across all neighborhoods,” Erlingheuser said. “But in other areas, in certain neighborhoods, people have difficulty getting to a polling location.”

“These are critical issues, and we don’t want to put municipalities in the position of having to make a decision about people exercising their franchise and their right to vote based on whether or not the town has enough money to fund an election properly,” Erlingheuser said.

Jess Zaccagnino, policy counsel at the ACLU of Connecticut, highlighted the importance of early voting from a racial equity standpoint.

“Connecticut has a troubling history of racial discrimination when it comes to voting and restricting access to the ballot box,” Zaccagnino said. “There are serious gaps to accessing voting in our state. Connecticut’s current limitations on alternatives to in-person Election Day voting disproportionately impacts voters of color and working people who are more likely to face barriers to voting.”

Zaccagnino and others at the rally, including Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, a Democrat, also urged the General Assembly to approve no-excuse absentee voting, another voting method most states have but Connecticut lacks.

“We’re trying to catch up to states around the country, red states and blue states alike,” Bronin said. “Connecticut has lagged for a long, long time, and it’s time for us to catch up. And the way we catch up is by adding as many options as possible for voters to cast their votes.”

Garth Harries, president of the Connecticut Project, agreed.

“There are many folks who would prefer to put it in the hands of someone, to actually have that moment, because they don’t trust the postal system,” Harries said. “There are others who are willing to use the postal system because of what’s going on in their lives. It’s not for us to adjudicate.”

Blumenthal’s early voting bill that passed the House last week institutes 14 days of in-person early voting, beginning with elections next year. It awaits a vote in the Senate. Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas previously said proper infrastructure was not in place to enact early voting in time for Election Day this year.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.