Connecticut passed early voting. What happens next?

Alyssa Beck, holds her son, Henry, 3, while voting at Danbury High School Election Day Nov. 8, 2022.

Alyssa Beck, holds her son, Henry, 3, while voting at Danbury High School Election Day Nov. 8, 2022.

Carol Kaliff/For Hearst Connecticut Media

Connecticut voters overwhelmingly approved early in-person voting, capping a years-long effort to expand ballot access in a state with some of the strictest election laws in the country.

In addition to races for governor, Congress, state legislature, and other statewide offices, there was also a question on the ballot this year asking voters whether the state constitution should be amended to allow for early voting. About 60 percent, or 674,002 voters, said yes, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of the State. Connecticut’s constitution currently limits in-person voting to Election Day.

Now what happens? When the General Assembly convenes next year, legislators will start crafting a bill to establish an early voting system here. Connecticut is one of only four states without early voting, including New Hampshire, Alabama, and Mississippi.

State rules for early in-person voting range, with the average start date 30 days before the election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The hours and days polls are open for early voting range with twenty-three states and the District of Columbia allow some weekend early voting, according to NCSL.

The state’s localized election system – with voting administered by officials in 169 cities and towns – complicates the process.

“Municipalities are going to be very nervous about the cost and security and ability to do this,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford. “So, we’ve really got to work closely with them.”

A small town like Bethlehem, with a population of less than 4,000 residents, may be able to navigate the shift more easily than a city like Hartford, home to more than 120,000 residents. Ritter said he’s heard “some talk” of allowing early voting for 60 days but he said that’s “way too far before an election.”

While the details will be hashed out during the 2023 legislative session, Ritter said he thinks allow Connecticut voters to cast ballots in person two to three weeks before an election is a more realistic timeline – keeping in mind existing voting laws including when absentee ballots can be printed.

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-Branford, said he’d like to see a shorter timeframe starting the Saturday before the election. “I think the weekend should be sufficient,” he said.

Both Candelora and Ritter said it’s possible an early voting system would be in place in Connecticut by next year’s municipal elections, but the 2024 presidential election seems more likely. “I’m confident we’ll have it by 2024,” said Cheri Quickmire,executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, the election watchdog among the groups pushing for expanding ballot access.

A similar effort to expand state voting opportunities failed in 2014. Former Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, spearheaded this year’s effort, attributed the success this time to a broader coalition of supporters, as well as expansion of absentee ballot eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a major education campaign, involving about 1,000 volunteers, to make voters aware of the referendum on early voting.

"Its time had come," Merrill said.

Merrill said the Secretary of the State’s Office has been working on a survey analyzing the 46 states that already offer early voting. That report will be ready for Secretary of the State-elect Stephanie Thomas when she takes office, Merrill said. "There's lots of models to look at."

Some states don’t open all their polling places and instead offer early voting at town halls. That could address concerns around cost, she said. There’s also the possibility of smaller towns sharing services. “It doesn’t have to cost more money,” she said.