Connecticut becomes one of the last states to allow early voting after years of debate

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. (AP Photo/Susan Haigh)

By SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press

STONINGTON, Conn. (AP) — For the first time, Connecticut has allowed people to cast ballots early, in person, ahead of an election, years after almost every other state in the country offered voters that option.

Saturday marks the final day of early voting before Tuesday’s presidential primary and turnout so far has been light. After the first three days of voting — there was no early voting on Friday because of the Good Friday holiday — 13,476 voters out of more than 1.2 million registered Democrats and Republicans had cast their ballots in person.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump already have secured the required delegates to be considered their parties’ presumptive nominees, so the stakes are not high. Despite the relatively small turnout as a result, state officials said they were pleased, noting there had been no major issues with the new system.

“We asked voters to help us test the system and make their voices heard, and voters of Connecticut answered the call,” Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said in a statement.

Now only four states — Alabama, Delaware, Mississippi and New Hampshire — do not allow early, in-person voting, although they may offer options for eligible absentee voters. Delaware previously allowed early voting, but a state court struck it down as unconstitutional in a Feb. 23 ruling.

Marya Ursin finally got the chance to vote early in Connecticut and at a time that suited her busy schedule. It was a welcome change from her traditional early-morning rush to the polls before work each Election Day.

“I like it,” she said after casting her early presidential primary ballot for Biden in the basement of Stonington Town Hall. “I can just kind of fit it in and not worry about it.”

Advocates had tried for years to amend the state’s unusually rigid constitution, which strictly dictated the time, place and manner of elections, essentially requiring voters to cast ballots at their local polling place on Election Day in a general or primary unless they met the state’s strict qualifications to vote by absentee ballot.

There was resistance to change in the state known as the “Land of Steady Habits,” especially from Republicans who voiced concerns about removing what they consider voting safeguards and whether local voting officials had enough funding and staffing to provide early voting.

Connecticut came close in 2014 to finally amending its constitution to grant the General Assembly the authority to eliminate restrictions on early voting and allow expanded eligibility for absentee ballots. But that ballot question, which advocates acknowledged was poorly worded and likely confused voters, was rejected.

Finally, voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2022 with more than 60% of the vote and the General Assembly passed legislation outlining the details last year. While there were four days of early voting for this primary, there will be 14 for the general election.

“If you want to vote in the presidential primary, today is the final day of early voting,” Gov. Ned Lamont wrote on X Saturday, the website formerly known as Twitter. “Every town has ONE early voting location open today from 10AM-6PM.”

Under Connecticut’s new system, when a voter goes to the polls, his or her name is looked up in the state’s Centralized Voter Registration System, which immediately marks the person as having voted early to prevent voting more than once.

Peggy Roberts, the Republican registrar of voters in Stonington, said the early voting launch was “slow but steady,” with 61 people casting early votes the first day. The voters, she said, have tended to be older.

“They like the fact that they’re not having to stand in line,” said Roberts, adding that looking up individuals on the computerized voter database has been the most time-consuming part and may need to be adjusted before the general election.

But that process has been educational for some voters, she said.

“In every town there’s a few people who think that it’s easy to cheat and they’re seeing that it’s not easy to cheat,” she said. “It’s very organized and secure.”

Not everyone was convinced. JoLynn Brochu, a Republican, said she and her husband Dan Brochu decided to vote early after passing the Stonington Town Hall during a walk. Even though they cast votes, they were not convinced early voting is needed in Connecticut and believe there should be just one day to submit ballots.

“Too much opportunity for cheating,” JoLynn Brochu said of the early voting option.

Yet Brochu said it makes sense as a Republican to use the opportunity to vote early in case there are long lines at the polls on Election Day or a problem with a voting machine.

“I know Democrats take that opportunity at a much higher rate than Republicans do,” she said. “So I think it’s important for Republicans to start doing the same thing.”