In a 83-59 vote, the House passed a bill Monday night allowing for citizens to register to vote and cast a ballot on Election Day.
Rep. Russ Morin, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said the goal of the bill is to give more people a chance to vote.
“I think it’s a good thing. If you’re a United States citizen and you’re 18 years old, you have the right to vote and this is going to allow more people to have that opportunity,” he said.
Morin said there are currently 10 states that allow same day registration. According to an Office of Legislative Research report, before 2011, eight states had laws allowing people to register to vote on Election Day. One of them, Ohio, removed the law from statute that year.
Under Connecticut’s bill, the secretary of the state would be required to set up an online system for new voter applications that could cross reference the verifying information provided by the applicant with state and federal databases. The goal is to ensure the person applying to vote isn’t already registered somewhere else.
However, opponents like Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, said the safeguards in the bill aren’t adequate to ensure the integrity of the elections system.
“Literally, if someone comes in and wants to cast a vote all they need to do is present a utility bill and cast that vote, that vote counts to the total whether it’s been verified or not,” he said.
Opponents of the bill offered a number of scenarios, in which people found ways to fraudulently vote. But Morin contended that the registration process is the same as the current system. Election Day applicants must swear they are who they say they are and are subject to prosecution if they lie, he said.
“If someone tried to do something fraudulently they would be dealt with and they would be punished,” Morin said.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said the situation is different because it eliminates the seven-day window between Election Day and the last day to register. That window has a “chilling effect” on potential fraudulent voters because it gives registrars more time to verify that person wasn’t registered elsewhere, he said.
“Whether it’s true or not, at least there’s that specter in someone’s mind that ‘Boy if I’m lying here they can check up on me,’” he said.
Cafero argued the current system gives people plenty of time to register. Everyone knows when Election Day is and if they don’t register in time they can wait until next year, he said. If lawmakers allow a system where there’s a chance of fraud, they could disenfranchise legitimate voters.
“I don’t want the potential of my vote being cancelled out by someone who votes illegally. And quite frankly, I don’t give a damn if they get in a lot of trouble,” he said. “…Remember, disenfranchisement works both ways.”
Hwang questioned how the state would find and prosecute someone who casted a vote that turned out to be fraudulent.
“A name is a name on a piece of paper. How do you capture that?” he asked.
Hwang proposed an amendment that would have required someone looking to register on Election Day provide a photo identification. According to the OLR report, at least 34 states considered bills requiring photo identification to vote in 2011. Seven states enacted the laws last year.
But the concept is reviled by some elections advocates, who view it as an effort to prevent people from voting. Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy went as far as to call such laws “racist” in their intent.
Malloy said they were the most onerous example of restrictions states have placed on voters. In most cases, people have to provide a drivers license, something he said many senior citizens don’t possess.
“I think it’s the most onerous and the most purposeful, for the purposes of driving down participation, let’s be honest,” he said.
“Not everyone has a photo ID and I find that to be very restrictive. It’s not a condition of voting today so why would I add that?” he asked.
However, Hwang’s amendment contains a mechanism to provide people with photo IDs at no cost. The amendment would pay for the cards by taking money from the Citizens Elections Fund.
“I think we can do with one less bumper sticker and one less mailing to ensure that everyone who wants to vote has the opportunity to be sure that their vote is secure, valid, and verified,” he said.
Opponents also had concerns about the extra work the bill will create for registrars who are already busy on Election Day.
“I cannot imagine how my town registrars are going to handle the influx of people who are going to come out under this bill,” Rep Brenda Kupchick, R-Fairfield, said.
The bill will now move the Senate.