Early Voting in Connecticut – Part 1 – Expectations

Having passed the Early Voting Constitutional Amendments in November, everyone expects the General Assembly will pass implementing legislation in 2023 and give some time for officials to implement it, i.e. the Secretary of the State’s Office to detail procedures and registrars to implement them.

We plan a series of posts. Today we will start with the expectations of various groups, as we understand them.

This is the first in a series on Early Voting in Connecticut. See <Part 2 – Implementing Change>

Voters

We can only speculate what voters expect, certainly they are not a homogeneous group. They have read and seen in the news that Connecticut is one of only four states that do not support some form of early voting (in-person early voting and/or no-excuse mail-in voting). They likely understand that this amendment only authorizes in-person early voting.

From the news leading up to the November vote they may have learned that early voting will eliminate lines at polling places in Connecticut and significantly increase turn-out. (As we will discuss in a later installment, they will likely be disappointed on both counts).

They may be thinking that once Connecticut also passes the no-excuse mail-in voting Constitutional Amendment in 2026, that shortly after we will be just like California and Colorado which have both forms of early voting and mail ballots to each voter before an election so they can just send them in. All we can say is mostly, but not so fast.

They may also be thinking of Georgia which has many days of early voting yet with notorious long lines during early voting. How can that be if early voting is supposed to eliminate lines? Stay tuned.

How many days and hours of early voting do they expect, its likely undefined and all over the lot. They probably expect to vote on weekends, before work, lunch time, or in the early evening. Some may expect early voting at their usual polling place, while that is done rarely or at all in other states.

Like others they expect early voting will be very similar to voting on election day. Checking in, getting a ballot, submitting it to a voting machine. A chance to get registration issues resolved, spoiling a ballot and getting another one if necessary, etc.

Like the Good Government Groups most voters expect that early voting will start soon, likely nobody will expect to wait beyond the 2024 presidential election.

Good Government Groups

Many may expect something along the lines of a recent article which highlights the ACLU’s expectations (and those of the Secretary of the State and others.)  How Long Should Connecticut Voters Get For Early Voting? <read>

Others may be expecting early voting along the lines of the latest version of H.R.1, S.1, and The For the People Act that was not passed by the last congress. That bill specified a minimum of 15 contiguous days of early voting, all at least 10 hours a day and the same hours each day of early voting.

That bill also specified counting of votes to begin by 14 days before the election, the same voting experience as a polling place on election day, and that votes could not be totaled until the polls closed on election day. It said that early voting was not necessary with sufficient no-excuse mail-in voting.

Election Officials

Election officials are under a lot of pressure in Connecticut. Some of the frivolous and redundant Freedom of Information requests seen in other states, public suspicion, and increasing work requirements, coupled with budgets controlled by each municipal government which my not be sympathetic to the workload, especially in small towns. Over 40% of registrars quit between November 2021 and July 2022 with others not running for re-election in November 2022. Many are tired and perhaps one-half low on experience, with few willing to take a job with low pay and many demands.

Registrars look at early voting requirements as significant. They are correct. A small town may have eight officials at one polling place on election day for a total of 17 hours. 15 days of early voting would require 120 pollworker days for officials, opening for 10 hours of voting would mean 12 hour days for officials. Few would be willing to work more than one or two days like that for each election.  Even in my town with 6 polling places with about 70 election day pollworkers, including absentee counting, adding 120 pollworker  days would be quite a challenge.

It is a lot more than recruiting and training all the novice pollworkers. It is also supporting them from the registrars’ offices during early voting, while most of those offices are already on overtime (paid or not) doing everything to prepare for election day. Early voting would add greatly to those demands. It includes finding an early voting location(s) that could be dedicated for all those days with enough parking. Most towns close and use schools for election day, they cannot close them for even a few additional days – they could be used on weekends but not during the week.

With budget problems the registrars (and municipalities) expect reimbursement from the State. Depending on many variables it could cost $1,500 to $2,500 per day per location for early voting plus a few thousand overhead to plan for it initially. Four days of early voting could total about $1,500,000 for each election and primary. 14 days might total over $3,500,000. In presidential years, including primaries over $10,500,000.

Election Integrity Advocates

Actually, we only have a few requirements that hopefully will not be too costly and paid for by the State. A one-time charge for additional memory cards and beefed up security under $500,000.

Like the For the People Act, we would like to see early voting be like voting on election day; requiring that votes will not be totaled until after the polls close on election day, i.e. similar to absentee ballot counting, early voting moderators would supervise the hand counting of a few ballots and write-ins late in the day on election day and then after 8:00pm close early voting machines and print the tapes. This should not be a surprise as today absentee ballots cannot be totaled until 8:00pm. The reason is to avoid the leaking of results that can cause voters, candidates, and parties to try to increase the vote knowing they are close to losing or on the other hand to simply give up.

The early voting ballots must be subject to post-election audit. Either each early voting district must be added to the drawing or each day of early voting must be added to the drawing. Subjecting each day to an audit will require ballots and machine counts be segregated by day (a good idea in any case), add more batches to be audited, yet reduce the number of ballots that need to be counted.

In addition, Connecticut needs new and enhanced security of voted ballots, voting machines, and memory cards between when early voting starts and the end of election day. Right now, in most municipalities, we have insufficient security, with ballots held in storage where multiple single individuals can gain access to voted ballots and machines undetected for hours. (Those ballot bags and plastic boxes and tabulators with seals are a good idea, yet insufficient to protect ballots or machines.) At minimum each day’s ballots and machines should be held in very secure storage with at least two padlocks with separate keys for each registrar and their deputy. Better still that plus secured by the municipal clerk allowing and recording all access by both registrars to the ballots and machines. Similar to a recent Secretary of the State’s directive to Fairfield: Access To Voting Tabulators In Fairfield Required State Intervention <read>

Summary

Not everyone will have their expectations met. Perhaps most will be partially or mostly disappointed.

We will have lots more to say in subsequent posts. We will suggest the tough choices before the General Assembly, discuss some of the arguments we have heard, and finally some recommendations. We will also address at some point the other changes expected in the next few years, such as new voting machines, mail-in voting, and electronic pollbooks and why we cannot expect do everything at once, successfully.

For several reasons we will recommend starting cautiously. Today, we have just scratched the surface.

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