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

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

Saturday is the last day of early voting before Tuesday’s presidential primaries and turnout has been low so far. After the first three days of voting – there was no early voting on Friday due to 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 have already secured the required delegates to be considered as presumptive nominees of their parties, so the stakes are not high. Despite the relatively small turnout as a result, state officials said they were pleased, noting there were no major problems with the new system.

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

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

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Marya Ursin finally had the chance to vote early in Connecticut at a time that suited her busy schedule. It was a welcome change from her traditional early morning rush to the polls before work every election day.

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

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

There was resistance to change in the state known as the “Land of Steady Habits,” especially from Republicans who expressed concerns about removing what they see as voting safeguards and whether local voting officials had enough funding and staff to make early to be able to vote.

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Connecticut came close to finally amending the Constitution in 2014 to grant the General Assembly the power to lift restrictions on early voting and expand absentee ballot eligibility. But that ballot question, which proponents acknowledged was poorly worded and likely to confuse voters, was rejected.

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

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 them from voting more than once .

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

“They like that they don’t have to wait in line,” Roberts said, adding that looking up individuals in the computerized voter database has been the most time-consuming part and may need to be adjusted before the general election.

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

“In every city there are a few people who think it’s easy to cheat, and they see that it’s not easy to cheat,” she said. “It’s very organized and safe.”

Not everyone was convinced. JoLynn Brochu, a Republican, said she and her husband Dan Brochu decided to vote early after passing Stonington City Hall while walking. Even though they cast votes, they were not convinced that early voting is necessary in Connecticut and believe there should be only one day to submit ballots.

“Too many opportunities to cheat,” JoLynn Brochu said of the early voting option.

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

“I know Democrats are seizing this opportunity much faster than Republicans,” she said. “So I think it’s important that Republicans do the same.”

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