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New Law Moves Up Connecticut Presidential Primary

woman sits in chair writing
AARP volunteer Darlene Dunbar, 76, will be making calls from her home in Portland, Connecticut this election season to help inform older residents about recent changes to voting laws. Dunbar also volunteered for AARP Connecticut’s voter education campaign in 2022. “We’re getting some important information across to people,” she says.
Photo by Kate Flock

In the coming weeks, Darlene Dunbar, 76, will make dozens of calls to AARP members around the state about the upcoming election. But she won’t be asking for campaign contributions or votes for any particular candidate.

Instead, the retired social worker from Portland—a small town south of Hartford—will be among the AARP Connecticut volunteers providing information about changes to election laws, including an earlier presidential primary date.

The date has been moved from the last Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday, meaning this year’s will be on April 2.

Dunbar, who also volunteered for AARP’s voter education campaign in 2022, says she likes making cold calls despite the occasional chilly reception she receives. People mistake her for a telemarketer, send her to voicemail or just hang up.

Photo by Kate Flock

“We’re getting some important information across to people,” she says.

The earlier primary date may help make the state more of a player in the presidential race, says AARP Connecticut State Director Nora Duncan, who emphasizes that the information volunteers share is nonpartisan.

“We want candidates to pay more attention to Connecticut [and] ... talk to Connecticut voters,” Duncan says.

People can vote in the primary only if they are registered with the party holding the primary. To switch from one party to the other, voters need to update their party affiliation at least three months before the primary.

Unregistered voters can register for a party by mail if their application is postmarked at least five days before a primary. For more information, including how to register online or check your voter registration status, go to

Also new this year: Connecticut voters can now cast ballots early in person. A law that took effect Jan. 1 allows four days of early voting for presidential primaries, seven days for most other primaries and 14 days for general elections.

Previously, Connecticut was one of only four states in the country without early in-person voting. Alabama, Mississippi and New Hampshire still do not offer that option.

But in 2023, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a bill establishing early voting. That came after voters in 2022 had approved a state constitutional amendment allowing the change. Every municipality in the state is required to have at least one early voting location, but may offer more.

Other election law changes passed in 2021 and 2022 make it easier for eligible Connecticut voters to vote absentee, including ensuring the availability of drop boxes and expanding who is eligible to return an absentee ballot on behalf of a voter.

Absentee voting on ballot

To vote absentee currently, Connecticut residents must have an acceptable excuse, such as being out of town or unable to get to the polls because of sickness or a physical disability.

However, voters caring for an ill spouse or other family member are also now eligible to request an absentee ballot if the person they take care of is sick or has a condition that could be aggravated by exposure to a disease such as COVID-19.

“It’s a huge change that really impacts seniors who are caregivers for a spouse and the trepidation of leaving them for any period of time,” says Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas (D).

A state constitutional amendment on the November ballot may also expand who can vote absentee. If approved by voters, the amendment would give the legislature the ability to institute no-excuse absentee balloting. That would allow any voter to request a mail-in ballot.

Thomas says she has met older residents who weren’t sure if they could get to the polls on Election Day because of health concerns.

No-excuse absentee balloting would allow people to take advantage of their fundamental right to vote—regardless of what might be going wrong in their lives, Thomas says. Maybe someone’s car breaks down or he has a family emergency and has to leave town unexpectedly, she notes.

“Why should our right to vote sort of be reliant on nothing bad happening that day?” Thomas says.

Cristina Rouvalis, a writer based in Pennsylvania, covers business, health care and other issues. She has written for the Bulletin for more than a decade.

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