House Passes Controversial Same-Day Voter Registration
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
April 30, 2012
After more than five hours of debate, the state House of Representatives voted Monday night for the controversial Election Day voter registration bill that has a long history in the state legislature.
By a vote of 83-59, the House voted allow the same-day registration, despite complaints by opponents about potential fraud. Nine conservative Democrats broke with their party and voted against the bill. Only one Republican, Livvy Floren of Greenwich, voted in favor.
Lawmakers have been clashing for more than a decade as the issue has been blocked by a veto by then-Gov.John G. Rowlandin 2003 and a federal court ruling in 2005 in Connecticut that rejected same-day registration.
In an impassioned speech, House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk gave a hypothetical that "a little brat from Virginia'' could vote by absentee ballot in a presidential election in his home state and then vote while away at college in Connecticut.
"What happened to my vote that was legal?'' Cafero boomed on the House floor. "What happened to my vote that was legal?''
He asked about the tight 2010 election when "whether true or not, there were widespread allegations of fraud.''
"You come up with your ID or a book bill or some freaking thing with your address on it,'' Cafero said. "Since I was 4 years old, I knew Election Day was the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. If you can't get it done, wait till next year, pal. Wait till next year.''
"You wanna cheat? You wanna rig an election?'' Cafero asked. "Your vote's gonna count.''
The debate started shortly before 6 p.m. Monday in the historic Hall of the House. The bill now goes to the Senate. If passed there, the registration would not take place until the November 2013 local elections — and would not be effective for the 2012 presidential election.
Currently, 10 states have same-day voter registration, including Maine and New Hampshire. State Rep. Russ Morin of Wethersfield said the registration "increases voter participation — not tremendously, but it does.''
Like other Democrats, Morin discounted the potential for increased voter fraud, saying that voters need to swear who they are when they register.
"We have not had a voter impersonation issue in the state'' in many years, Morin said, adding that voters could face federal prison terms of five years for a Class D felony and fines if they impersonate someone else.
He added later, "If you have falsely stated that you were eligible to vote, you will be punished to the full extent of the law. ... It is a serious crime.''
State Rep. David Labriola, a Naugatuck Republican, said there has been fraud both in Connecticut and across the nation in various elections. He cited the widespread allegations of fraud in the 1960 presidential election between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon, as well as fraud in the 1948 U.S. Senate election of future President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Texas. In the 1986 delegate primary between Democrats Toby Moffett and Gov. William A. O'Neill, multiple people were arrested and some went to prison, he said.
"It's just not true that we don't have reports of fraud,'' Labriola said. "We just had it in New Haven in the aldermanic election. We had allegations of fraud. ... In the gubernatorial election, does anybody have confidence that we got the vote right in Bridgeport?''
State Rep. Christopher Davis, an East Windsor Republican who opposed the bill, asked, "If I was an illegal alien and I wanted to vote here in the state of Connecticut ... what provisions in this amendment stop that from happening?''
He added, "We're sending a signal that anyone can come and vote.''
Morin responded that a person must swear that he or she is an American citizen and is not currently a felon.
"Ultimately, you will be found out if you try to commit this fraud,'' Morin said.
Morin said that signing up to vote would be no different than a student trying to get a driver's license in Connecticut.
"People have died for this right to vote,'' Morin said on the House floor. "As long as they're 18 and they're not a criminal, they should have the right to vote.''
Republicans said the bill would allow a person to show up at the local town hall at 7 p.m. on election night, register and then vote within the hour. By the time the fraud was detected, they said, the fraudulent votes would have been cast.
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.
In 2003, six states using the same-day registration had recorded a higher voter turnout than the nation's average, according to various reports. In those states — Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming— voter participation ranged from 54.5 to 68.8 percent, compared with 51.3 percent in other states, according to a report by a nonprofit New York-based research and advocacy group.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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