Although 14 states have taken steps to make it more difficult to vote -- by requiring identification that some people don't possess, for example -- Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, with the backing of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, is pushing Connecticut in the other direction.
Good for them. Voting is the essence of democracy. Making it easier to vote will increase a citizen's stake in government.
Ms. Merrill unveiled her package of reforms on Monday, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who called ballot access a bedrock civil right. The secretary of the state noted that in Connecticut nearly one-third of eligible voters are not registered, barely 30 percent of registered voters turned out in last fall's municipal elections, and only 57 percent voted in the statewide and congressional elections in 2010.
That's a worrisome dropoff in participation. Cynicism over partisan gridlock in Washington may have something to do with paltry voter participation, but so do antiquated election laws and practices.
As an antidote to voter malaise, Ms. Merrill proposes that Connecticut law allow Election Day registration, no-excuse absentee voting and online voter registration. She also proposes to increase criminal penalties on those who tamper with voting equipment or who interfere with, threaten or intimidate voters. Those are good changes -- for starters. She and lawmakers should consider online voting and various forms of early voting as well.
Changes to absentee voting will take a constitutional amendment, but should be pursued. This is one promising avenue to increased voter participation. So is Election Day registration. Ms. Merrill says that in the nine states that have some form of Election Day registration, turnout has improved an average of 8 to 10 percent.
Opponents of these worthy efforts to improve access to the ballot raise the specter of fraud. That hasn't been what experience teaches.
Correction published Sunday, January 22, 2011 - Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is not proposing that state law be changed to allow no-excuse absentee voting, contrary to what the Thursday, Jan. 19 editorial "'Making It Easier To Vote" said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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