Early voting for state elections would be 10 days under legislation approved in CT committee | Hearst Media

March 17, 2023

The following article as published by Hearst Media:


HARTFORD — Legislation enacting the amendment to the state Constitution approved by voters last fall would include 10 days of early voting for statewide and municipal elections, stopping after Sundays to allow local officials to rest on Mondays before Election Day.


In a sharp partisan divide on the legislative Government Administration & Elections Committee, Republican attempts to reduce the number of days; and for the first time require photo ID for all voters, were rejected by majority Democrats during a nearly four-hour meeting. The bill heads next to the state Senate.


In related House and Senate bills that won partisan approval in the Government Administration & Elections Committee, local referenda, primaries and special elections would have an additional four days of early voting, for a total of 14 days. Republicans on the panel led by Sen. Rob Sampson and Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, both of Wolcott, introduced three amendments in all, which were turned down by Democrats who have majorities of 98-53 in the House and 24-12 in the Senate.


“I love this country so much, based on the concept that we govern ourselves, the value of which I’m afraid every day is being lost because people, I don’t know that they consider it as precious as they should, the fact that we live in a truly free country,” said the conservative Sampson, who is in his seventh term in the General Assembly. “I’m all for creating laws that expand the ability for people to vote, but we’ve got to make sure we maintain that trust at the highest level capable.”


State Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, the co-chairman of the committee who led the nearly four-hour meeting Wednesday afternoon, said that for communities of at least 20,000, local officials would have to hold public hearings on the issue of possibly having additional locations beyiond local municipal buildings to cast early ballots. If communities agree to have more locations, they must be approved by the secretary of the state.


The bill would require early voting from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. except for two days when later hours would be offered to voters.


Sampson and Mastrofrancesco admitted that Republicans do not have the strength of numbers to work their will on major issues. “My position, since we’ve started this debate, was ‘look, I’m in the minority, I don’t have a lot of say,'” Sampson said. “If you guys want early voting we’re going to have early voting. Can I please be part of the conversation? Can we please try to do something that’s reasonable?”


The Republican duo warned of potential lapses in security and integrity.


“We’re all very much in favor of access to voting,” Sampson said. “No one wants to prevent anyone from voting unless they should be prevented by virtue of criminal activity or ineligibility in some way. In every other aspect we are on the same page, which is to say we want to encourage people to take an important role in preserving our electoral system and our form of representative government, which is so important to maintaining the system of laws and justice that we have in this country.”


Sampson proposed limiting early voting to three days. “I don’t think this is an unreasonable ask,” Sampson said.


“I think we have a different philosophy about the right way to approach this early voting issue for the first time,” Blumenthal replied. “In our minds, and I think the secretary of the state put it quite well, that we should start more expansively and if we find that expansive period is not justified, then we can reduce it. We will never actually know, if we start small, what additional participation we are missing out on.” He said that nationally, among the 46 states that have early voting, 10 days is about in the middle.


After that amendment was defeated along party lines, Mastrofrancesco offered another amendment that would require voters to present state-issued photo identification, which has never been required. That drew criticism from Democratic committee members including Rep. Chris Rosario of  Bridgeport and Sen. Derek Slap of West Hartford. Slap said that if the amendment were to become part of the bill, it would create major obstacles to voting.


A third failed Republican amendment would have required extensive post-election audits.


“I said jokingly back here that we’re dispelling the myth that we’re working on this legislation in a bipartisan way, anyway,” Sampson said. “I’m sad that that seems to be more truth than just humor.”