Bill Allowing Same-Day Voter Registration Advances
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
March 21, 2012
A key committee voted Wednesday for a bill that allows same-day voter registration, a controversial issue that for more than a decade has prompted sharp debates about potential voter fraud.
The bill passed 11-4 on a largely party-line vote.
Republicans charged that registering and then voting on the same day provides too many opportunities for last-minute fraud that might not be detected until after the election. One Republican joined with 10 Democrats to pass the measure.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, a Democrat and the committee co-chairwoman, spoke strongly in favor of the bill, saying it would boost voter turnout at a time when the state needs it. She said there was no evidence of voter fraud in Connecticut, adding that a statewide voter registration database would prevent voters from casting ballots by driving to two different towns on Election Day.
"I do think that we take ballot integrity very seriously,'' said Slossberg. "One of the great tools at our fingertips and at our registrars' fingertips is our electronic database.''
Republicans sharply disagreed with Slossberg over fraud and offered amendments they said would help prevent it. Rep. John Hetherington, a New Canaan Republican, offered an unsuccessful amendment to ensure that photo identification is offered at the polling place at a time of rising identity theft. But Democrats countered that many senior citizens and members of minority groups do not have photo identification because they do not have a driver's license.
"We're looking for a valid federal government or state identification,'' Hetherington told his colleagues. "Whenever an invalid vote is cast, it disenfranchises someone who cast a valid vote. If one of us behaves dishonestly, it impacts someone else. ... An election goes to the cornerstone of democracy. If we don't have honest elections, we cannot boast that we have a legitimate democracy.''
Hetherington's amendment failed on a party-line vote as Republicans supported the measure and Democrats opposed it.
Rep. David Labriola, a Republican from Oxford, spoke strongly against the bill, saying that history shows that there has been documented voter fraud in Connecticut.
"I do think it opens the door to fraud,'' Labriola said. "I do think there is plenty of evidence of voter fraud. ... It would be chaos at the polls, and the local officials would not be able to handle it. ... Elections would literally be stolen. ... This is a purported solution to an absolutely non-existent issue.''
One of the biggest cases of fraud came in the 1986 Democratic delegate primary in Waterbury when Gov. William A. O'Neill was running against fellow Democrat Toby Moffett, Labriola said. In a primary that became marked by absentee-ballot fraud, 10 people were arrested on 94 criminal counts.
The controversial issue has a long history, including a veto in 2003 by Gov.John G. Rowlandand a federal court ruling in 2005 in Connecticut that rejected same-day registration. In 2009, the state House of Representatives debated for nearly six hours before approving the bill, 81-65. Only one House Republican — Rep. Livvy Floren of Greenwich — voted in favor of the bill that year.
Floren has supported the bill since arriving at the legislature in January 2001. She said Wednesday that she still supports both the Democratic-written bill and the photo identification that was pushed by Hetherington. She was the only Republican to support the committee bill, which now goes to the state House of Representatives.
The closest gubernatorial race in decades was in 2010, when Democrat Dannel P. Malloyof Stamford defeated Republican Tom Foley of Greenwich by 6,404 votes out of more than 1.1 million cast — a razor-thin margin of about one-half of 1 percent. At the legislative level, seats have been won or lost by fewer than 10 votes — and recounts are not unusual for races in the state House of Representatives.
Slossberg clashed sharply with the Republican view about photo IDs.
"There couldn't be a more fundamental split,'' Slossberg said. "In Connecticut, we do not have any evidence of voter fraud when registering in person. Not one case. ... We have many ways that we combat voter fraud in our state. We have a statewide voter registration database. ... Absolutely no evidence of voter fraud in this area. But we do know that between 10 and 25 percent of our population does not have a photo ID.
"More often than not, there are certain member of minority classes that do not have photo IDs. ... My father was a World War II veteran, but he no longer had a photo ID because he no longer drove. ... I strongly oppose this [Republican amendment]. In this day and age, our goal should be getting as many people as we can to vote.''
When Hetherington, a Yale-educated attorney, asked where the 25 percent figure came from, Slossberg said that it came from a national study about photo IDs.
"Many people don't get a driver's license because they use public transportation,'' Slossberg said. "Even if it's one person that we've turned away who is supposed to vote'' that is too many.
Hetherington responded, "The absence of fraud does not make an argument for facilitating fraud.''
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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