Our 2010 statewide primary season has come and gone, and although millions of dollars were spent on ads for or against candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and other offices, less than one in four (24.88 percent) registered Connecticut Democrats showed up to cast ballots Aug. 10, while less than one in three (29.59 percent) Republicans turned out for the primary.
This turnout for the statewide primaries was considerably lower than recent figures that broke records in Connecticut. On Aug. 8, 2006, more than 43 percent of Connecticut Democrats turned out to vote in the statewide primaries for U.S. Senate and governor. Then in February of 2008, that record was broken when 53 percent of registered Democrats went to the polls to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for president.
Whatever the reasons for the low turnout in 2010, there are three relatively simple solutions that would go a long way to boosting voter turnout figures not only for primaries, but for all elections in Connecticut. First, we should move the primary to June before summer vacations begin, when children are in school and parents are more tuned in to news and public affairs.
The second and third steps are simple reforms to make voting easier and more convenient: no excuse absentee balloting and Election Day registration. I have advocated for these changes for more than a decade.
Establishing no excuse absentee ballots would introduce a kind of early voting system in Connecticut that would allow thousands to vote at their convenience. Currently, registered voters can only obtain absentee ballots if they are unable to be in the polling place on Election Day due to illness, travel or religious reasons. By doing away with these restrictions, registered voters could apply for the ballots and vote without having to figure out when or how to get to their polling place. Several states have enacted early voting with considerable success. In North Carolina, early voting has proved very popular and is credited with boosting turnout by as much as 9 percent.
The reform of Election Day registration is also long overdue in Connecticut. New Hampshire and Maine both took this step successfully in the 1990s, and Minnesota has had this in place for nearly 40 years. This allows voters with valid identification to register right at their polling place on Election Day and then to vote. This would eliminate arbitrary voter registration deadlines, and no eligible voters would be turned away because their registration was not complete. Every four years, upward of 40,000 Connecticut residents, who are not registered, vote for president by presidential ballot. This shows a demand for this option from voters who were otherwise unable to register before Election Day.
In New Hampshire, more than 10 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the November 2008 presidential election registered to vote that day. Nationally, that was true for more than 1 million voters. The 10 states that have Election Day registration had on average a 12 percent higher turnout than the national figure on November 4, 2008.
If these reforms can succeed in small states such as Wyoming and large states such as Michigan and North Carolina, they can succeed in Connecticut. We have the security systems in place to make sure no excuse absentee ballots and Election Day registration don't lead to voter fraud. As our world has gotten more fast-paced and as Connecticut residents are busier trying to hold onto jobs in this difficult economy, our voting system needs to catch up. If you make voting easier, more people will vote. So let's make it happen and bring our voter turnout numbers back up to where they should be.
Susan Bysiewicz is secretary of the state.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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