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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Conn. lawmaker to towns: Don’t expect state to fund early voting this session. GOP balks.

    As Connecticut municipalities bear the financial load of early voting, legislative leaders and state officials are split over whether the state should help fund the program and if failing to do so would put elections at risk.

    With a presidential election looming, House Speaker Matthew Ritter indicated Thursday that cities and towns should not expect the legislature to fund early voting this session.

    Ritter said that early voting “was not widely used” by Connecticut voters during the April presidential primary.

    The speaker said the state should hold off on funding decisions until after the 2024 presidential election when more data on early voting participation will be available.

    “If we find the municipalities are grossly underfunded and are unable to carry out their constitutional responsibilities, we’ll talk to them,” Ritter said.

    In the meantime, Ritter suggested that cities and towns in need of funds pull from their share of municipal aid from the state.

    Ritter said that for most municipalities, the costs associated with early voting are “probably” in the “tens of thousands of dollars … not hundreds.”

    “Let’s just see where we are next year,” Ritter said. “No municipality’s going to go bankrupt.”

    House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora said he “strongly disagrees” with Ritter’s offer.

    “It’s a risk to democracy,” Candelora said. “It’s allowing for the integrity of the system to break down without the proper funding.”

    Candelora said he would like to see the legislature allocate at least another $3 million to assist municipalities with early voting expenses, but said that number could grow to upwards of $10 million.

    Candelora suggested that the state should use its remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds to cover the bill.

    “If there’s ARPA funds that are still left, if there is a budget that we are going to be looking at, we should be putting more money into early voting,” Candelora said. “We’re going into the wake of a presidential election, we are going to need the staff to support it.”

    When probed on the state’s ARPA balance earlier in the day, Ritter said he believes Connecticut’s unspent funds are “comfortably over $300 million,” after joking that “every day, the paperboy brings more.”

    At the start of the 2024 session, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas requested $5 million from the state legislature to alleviate the financial burden of early voting on municipalities.

    Thomas said Thursday that changes to state election laws and low civic literacy have created a “perfect storm” in Connecticut ahead of the presidential election.

    “We are seeing unprecedented attacks on our elections through foreign bad actors seeking to sow distrust, the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, and now artificial intelligence,” Thomas said in a statement to the Courant. “My office will continue seeking smart partnerships and alternative funding sources to help the voters of Connecticut exercise their right to vote, and I am hopeful that state investment will follow.”

    Approximately 16% of voters in the April primary cast their ballots through early voting, according to the Office of the Secretary of the State of the State.

    The primary marked the first election where Connecticut residents could participate in early voting after the legislature passed Public Act 23-5 last session.

    The legislation requires every municipality in the state to establish at least one early voting location and offer early voting for four days before special elections and presidential preference primaries, seven days for all other primaries, and 14 days for general elections.

    To help with the cost of training, staffing and other expenses, the legislature provided each municipality, regardless of size or population, with a one-time payment of $10,500.

    Randy Collins, the associate director of public policy and advocacy for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said that those funds “went very quickly.”

    “I don’t think anybody has revenue left over,” Collins said.

    Collins said some municipalities spent tens of thousands of dollars above their existing registrar budgets on early voting during the primary.

    He said CCM and its members anticipate that costs will only increase when the early voting period lasts for seven days in August and two weeks in November.

    Collins said many towns have been forced to siphon resources from other budget items to pay for upcoming elections. He said the bulk of the expenses this cycle stemmed from equipment purchases, staffing, advertising and rental costs.

    “It highlighted the fact that even with a low turnout, you still have the staff at a certain level based on election requirements,” Collins said.

    Collins said municipalities are hopeful that the state will be able to find room in the budget to share at least some of the burden.

    “We know we won’t be dollar for dollar, but we are hopeful that the state will provide assistance to meet the need,” Collins said.

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