Christine Stuart file photo

(Updated 7:50 p.m.) The House spent the better part of the afternoon debating a bill, which would allow someone to register and vote on the same day.

The almost six hour debate over the controversial bill, a perennial issue, finally passed the House by a vote of 81 to 65.

Proponents of the bill say it increases voter participation. Opponents say the only thing it increases is voter fraud and municipal budgets.

Under current state law, a voter must register to vote 14 days before an election by mail and seven days before an election in person.

Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, who introduced the bill said there are nine states with same-day voter registration and at least three of them have been doing it that way for decades.

“Voting is a right, not necessarily a privilege,” Spallone said. He said by passing the bill that state is extending that right to “young people in a modern, mobile society.”

Rep. Peggy Reeves, D-Wilton, said the reason the 14 day period existed is because the local Registrar of Voters used to have to handwrite the names of voters in a ledger. She said with modern technology there’s no reason for the delay. 

Rep. Chris Caruso, D-Bridgeport, who appealed the results of the 2007 mayoral primary in Bridgeport all the way to the Supreme Court, said more often “fraud is by the election officials, not the voters.”

While the Supreme Court didn’t overturn the results of the Democratic primary, Caruso called the decision a victory because it pointed out the violations of law by Bridgeport’s Democratic Registrar of Voters. These “abuses, again, were not created by the voters themselves,” Caruso said Tuesday explaining his support for the legislation.

Opponents of same-day voter registration said it will increase voter fraud.

“Why do we have a waiting period?” Rep. David Labriola, R-Naugatuck, said. “To prevent this type of fraud.” He said there’s no outcry for this bill from the voters, who procrastinate and miss the current registration deadline. “There’s no outcry…why do we need to do this, this year?” he said.

Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, said on one hand the legislature wants to make voting easy for voters, but on the other hand it needs to protect the integrity of the system. “You have to strike a balance,” he said. “This bill goes in the direction of not having enough safeguards.”

Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, and a handful of other legislators on both sides of the aisle were concerned about the funding for their local Registrar of Voters to hire temporary workers on Election Day.

The bill if passed by the House will go to the Senate, where it’s expected to pass.

A similar bill passed both chambers back in 2003, but was vetoed by then Gov. John G. Rowland.

While she’s reluctant to comment on any bill before it reaches her desk, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said Tuesday that it raises a lot of questions.

On her way up the stairs to her office Tuesday Rell said same-day voter registration may open up the process to “the possibility of fraud.” However, Rell said she hasn’t really considered the bill and doesn’t really have a firm opinion yet.

She said she can’t understand people who forget to register to vote. “You can’t help but know there’s an election coming these days,” Rell said.