Courtesy of Stephanie Thomas

State Rep. Stephanie Thomas, who represents Norwalk, Westport and Wilton, is running for secretary of the state on a platform of prioritizing civic education and engagement across Connecticut. 

Thomas officially entered the race on Nov. 30, 2021. She has served in Connecticut’s House of Representatives since early 2021, where she was vice chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee. As a legislator, she focused on pushing forward bills on early voting, automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots. Prior to taking on this role, she worked in the nonprofit sector as a consultant for 26 years —even founding her own firm, Stetwin Consulting. 

“My biggest hope is that people who feel disassociated from government will have an ‘aha’ moment, and say, ‘I matter, my voice counts, and I can make a change, even though I’m only one person,’” Thomas said.

In a packed race for the position to replace outgoing secretary Denise Merrill, Thomas is running against Democrats — Meridian Rep. Hilda Santiago, Hamden Rep. Joshua Elliott, Middletown Sen. Matt Lesser — and the two Republicans Dominic Rapini and Brock Weber. From New Haven, Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen and Director of Health Maritza Bond are also seeking the role. 

Connecticut’s secretary of the state has the primary responsibility of overseeing elections, while also managing the state’s record keeping, business regulations and civic engagement initiatives. 

Thomas told the News that her professional background — “a combination of nonprofit experience, small business experience … coupled with the legislative experience” — sets her apart in terms of her capability to approach the many responsibilities of this role. 

“This client service aspect of my job for those last couple of decades really will come into play here with the secretary’s office,” Thomas said, noting that her nonprofit consulting experience has taught her the importance of “fostering a spirit of two way communication and setting up some systems where everyone feels like they are heard and that their requests are being considered.”

Thomas said her primary goal is to “counter distrust of government, voter apathy and voter frustration” through civic education initiatives, particularly those that engage adults instead of simply K-12 students who may be required to take civics classes in school. 

A first step would be to create a secretary of the state YouTube channel in order to connect residents to digestible answers about the voting process, covering topics such as registration and filling out a ballot. Thomas also plans to create a comprehensive “tool-kit” with election information to share with advocacy groups, local libraries and other community organizations.

Thomas said that given that she launched her campaign “three or four months later” than some others, the beginning was a lot of “playing catch-up” in terms of fundraising. In her first month, she was able to raise $31,000 through a “widespread, somewhat grassroots” support base. 

She has been endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee of Wilton, among others, whose chair Tom Dubin MPH ’19 praised her entrepreneurship and leadership on voting rights issues. 

“Stephanie Thomas flipped our state house district from red to blue after more than a decade of being locked out,” Dubin said. “She accomplished that because she energizes people with her passion on truly important issues and her vision for how to achieve results.” 

Pamela Hovland ART ’93 from Norwalk, who teaches in the Yale School of Art as a senior critic in design, first met Thomas when the representative was campaigning for her current position, after which the two became friends. 

Hovland praised Thomas’ passion for voting rights, as well as the “time and energy” that she has promised to dedicate to educating constituents. 

“She’s really an incredibly great listener, which I find is maybe one of the most important characteristics in a candidate,” Hovland said. “She truly is interested in your questions, your comments, your ideas. … She has just been incredibly hardworking, incredibly focused, incredibly, — like I said — receptive to ideas from different perspectives.”

This year’s Democratic primary is scheduled for Aug. 9, while the general election will occur on Nov. 8.

Correction, April 17: A previous version of this article misspelled Dubin’s name. It has been updated.

Sylvan Lebrun is a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor, and covered City Hall and nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in Comparative Literature.