Proposed Election Reforms Address Crisis Of Low Voter Participation
Early Voting, Same-Day Registration Among Package Before Lawmakers
By DANIELA ALTIMARI
March 02, 2012
— Lawmakers are considering a package of election-related bills that supporters say will empower citizens, modernize the voting process, and assure fairer, more efficient elections.
"It's long past time that we move our elections into the 21st century in Connecticut,'' Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said during a press briefing Friday prior to a legislative hearing on the proposals. "We are not on the cutting edge and our system is old, costly and inconvenient."
As a result, Merrill said, one out of three state residents who are eligible to vote aren't even registered.
In an effort to reverse what Merrill called a "crisis of low voter participation in our state," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing a significant overhaul to the way Connecticut conducts its elections.
Among them the proposed changes:
-- Set stiffer penalties for voter intimidation and interference
-- Implement same-day voter registration in Connecticut
-- Establish an online voter registration system.
"The reforms in this package will ensure that more of our residents have the power to decide who they want to represent them in government,'' Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman told the panel.
The same-day registration proposal, which would allow eligible voters to register on election day, drew the most criticism. During the lengthy hearing before the government administration and elections committee, several Republicans predicted it would create greater opportunities for fraud.
Former state GOP Chairman Chris Healy suggested the bill is a solution in search of a problem. "Where are the teeming hordes of people who are denied access to register to vote?"
Healy said the bill cheapens what ought to be a sacred civic duty.
"There are probably 250, 260 days out of the year where you can walk in and … register to vote,'' he told the committee. "It is easier than picking up your dry cleaning. It is easier than getting a fishing license … this is not a problem."
An election, Healy said, "is .. . the one day of the year we all come together and vote. I'm concerned that the more we make this an exercise in expediency, we sort of demean the whole process. When you turn 18, you should go down and register. If you don't do that … and if you don't take the time to understand what this country's about, then shame on you. It's not the job of the government to walk everyone by the hand to register to vote.''
Over the past decade, bills allowing for same-day registration have come up repeatedly at the General Assembly. In 2003, lawmakers in both chambers approved the measure but it was vetoed by Gov. John Rowland.
Registrars of voters also testified in support of, and in opposition, to the bills.
Aleta Looker, the Democratic registrar in Cheshire, said same-day registration would add another burden to already overworked local election officials.
But Pua Ford, the Democratic registrar in Bethany, said the package of bills proposed by Malloy would increase voter participation.
"Most of the people in this building have civic matters at the top of their list of things to do,'' she said. "But there are reasonable, caring and intelligent people who don't. … If we limit the vote to people with very little chaos in their lives … we don't have a truly representative government."
Early Voting Among Proposals
Also under review by the elections committee is a measure that would open the door to early voting, voting by mail, and "no-excuse" absentee ballots. Such changes would require amending the state Constitution —which in turn requires the approval of three-quarters of the General Assembly before coming to voters in the form of a statewide referendum this fall.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury and a ranking member of the committee, said he does not back changing the constitution until lawmakers know exactly what provisions would be included.
Most of the election bills being considered by the committee are included in a report by a task force convened by Merrill last year to study ways to improve voting in Connecticut.
The task force, comprising town clerks, academics and good-government advocates, came up with some other ideas as well, including a certification program for registrars of voters and a provision to make election day a holiday. Merrill noted that in some other nations, election day is a day of celebration and festivities and suggested that adopting a similar custom in Connecticut could boost turnout.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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