'Connecticut Will Lead The Nation,' Martin Luther King Iii Says; Panel Ok's Contested Measure
By Christopher Keating and Jon Lender
April 24, 2012
On a day when Martin Luther King III came to Hartford to push for the state's election reforms, a key legislative committee approved a controversial bill to allow voter registration on Election Day.
King, the son of the slain civil rights leader, stood with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislators outside the governor's office to say that Connecticut is trying to expand voting rights at the same time when many states are trying to restrict them.
"Connecticut will lead the nation," King said, adding that he wanted to "commend you for what you're embarking upon."
Connecticut has been debating three key issues: House Bill 5022 on increasing the penalties for voter intimidation, House Bill 5024 on same-day registration, and House Joint Resolution 2, which is a constitutional amendment that has passed both chambers.
The constitutional amendment would eliminate the current restrictions on absentee ballots and switch to "no excuses" balloting -- meaning that no reason at all would be needed to obtain an absentee ballot. Currently, people must certify that they are away at college or out of town on a business trip, for example.
Both chambers have passed the amendment, but they did not reach the required 75 percent level for the issue to be placed on the ballot in a statewide referendum this November. If both chambers pass the amendment again by a simple majority next year, then the issue would be placed on the ballot in November 2014.
At the press conference, Malloy said Connecticut is "going in a very different direction than 32 other states" across the country. He noted that other states are requiring "a state-issued identification," such as a driver's license, in order to prove identification and vote. But Malloy and others said that some elderly citizens do not have a photo ID because they no longer drive and do not hold a license. They often take the bus for their transportation needs in inner cities.
In the legislature's appropriations committee, which began deliberating as Malloy was speaking, state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann said: "This bill makes photo ID optional. It doesn't require it. We have thousands, tens of thousands of Connecticut residents, who don't have photo ID. They take the bus. They don't drive."
During the meeting, Fleischmann, a Democrat from West Hartford, answered questions from Sen. Len Suzio, a Republican from Meriden, who is concerned about voter fraud.
"It's legal to register to vote in multiple locations as long as you vote in only one? That's legal in Connecticut?" Suzio asked.
"I think that's essentially correct," Fleischmann said. "You can only vote in one place or else you're in violation of state law."
Fleischmann said that all property owners are permitted to vote in various elections, adding that some people own homes in two different towns in Connecticut and can vote in a town that isn't their primary residence in such matters as a local budget referendum.
"One year I can vote in Town A, and in another year, I can vote in Town B?" Suzio asked.
Student at a college or university must decide whether to vote in their hometown or in the town where the college is located, Fleischmann said.
"The student has to choose one or the other," Fleischmann said. "You only get one primary residence, which is the place where you're permitted to vote."
Suzio said it is wrong to limit the chances of allowing someone to vote, adding, "I do believe it's just as wrong to set up a system to fraudulently vote." He added, "The testimony today tells me there's plenty of opportunity for abuse for registering and voting."
The voting rights bill, including the Election Day registration provisions, was proposed by Malloy and supported by Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. Other states that allow Election Day voter signups have seen increases of about 10 percent in turnout in certain elections, said Av Harris, a spokesman for Merrill's office.
The same-day registration would take effect with the November 2013 municipal elections, and would require local registrars of voters to designate one location in town for processing applications. Applicants would have to complete a voter registration form and provide the same information normally required by law to register: birth certificate, driver's license or Social Security card. If these IDs don't include proof of address, they could use a driver's learner permit or a utility bill due no more than 30 days after the election.
The overall voting rights bill also calls for establishing an online voter registration system for people whose identity and address could be verified through the Department of Motor Vehicles' computer system or a Social Security database.
The 35-17 approval of House Bill 5024 came almost completely along Democrat-Republican lines and after significant controversy over GOP concerns that its "Election Day registration" provisions would open the door to voter fraud. Two Democrats, Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Rep. Peggy Sayers of Windsor Locks, joined 15 Republicans in opposing it.
"There is no verification," said Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield. He noted that current law only requires submission of a current utility bill as minimum proof of one's identity, adding that if someone comes in on Election Day and wants to vote immediately, better verification should be required. He said that should be a photo ID, a form of proof of eligibility that he said is required in 30 states. Otherwise, someone could just use someone else's utility bill and use that person's name, Hwang said.
Hwang later Monday released the text of a newspaper op-ed essay that he has submitted for publication, which said: "My parents left China as teenagers to escape the tyranny of Communism. I was born in Taiwan under martial law, and I can tell you that nothing gives you a greater appreciation of the value of liberty and freedom than to live in a nation whose people have neither. I treasure the opportunities this country offers and the sanctity of our liberties and freedoms. These should be guaranteed by the power and truth of our votes on Election Day."
Other Republicans agreed. Suzio said it would be "easy to fraudulently vote," and there is "plenty of opportunity for abuse."
But Fleischmann said in the nine other states where Election Day registration is legal -- Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Montana, Idaho, Iowa, North Carolina, Wyoming, Maine, and Minnesota -- there has not been a problem with fraud. "It's never happened in this country -- never in this country," Fleischmann said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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