Not registered to vote? Don’t worry. Today marks the first Election Day in Connecticut in which residents may register to vote and cast a ballot for municipal candidates on the same day.
Polls will be open in towns across Connecticut from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. for voting on local offices like mayor, first selectman, and many seats on various local boards.
According to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, there are currently more than 2 million active registered voters in the state. However, for the first time residents will be permitted to register to cast ballots on Election Day.
Not every polling station will be equipped to register new voters. Generally, towns will have one location with a “live” voter list, where officials will be capable of adding names. In most cases, this location will be the town hall or city offices. However, Merrill said residents seeking to sign up should contact their local registrars office for instructions.
Unregistered voters may register to vote if they meet standard eligibility requirements. In order to sign up, they will need to fill out a registration application, provide identification and document proving that they live in town. Residents seeking to register today will need to declare under oath that they have not already voted in the election.
The opportunity to register today also will be extended to voters who are registered to vote in one municipality but have since moved to another town and had not yet signed up to cast ballots there.
Lawmakers voted to allow Election Day registration during last year’s legislative session. Proponents of the change have argued that it will increase voter participation and turnout.
“We’re trying to improve access to voting. For anyone who is eligible to vote, we want to make sure they have the opportunity to,” Merrill said.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, agreed.
“In a time many states are moving toward making it more difficult for people to vote, our state is moving away from voter suppression and toward more participation,” she said.
However, opponents of Election Day registration have argued that it threatens the integrity of the election system by increasing the opportunities for voter fraud.
Merrill said she expected a relatively low number of people to take advantage of the new registration opportunity and did not believe voter fraud would be a problem. She said a process exists for registrars to ensure that the new voter has not already voted elsewhere.
“I just don’t see a problem. Never say never, but that traditionally has not been a kind of fraud we’ve seen here in Connecticut,” she said.
Others have expressed concerns that registering new voters will create extra work for local registrars, who already have a lot on their plates on Election Day. Merrill said registrars have been preparing for the new initiative for the last six months.
“I think most are pretty excited about it. Some people get very angry when they find out they’re not able to vote,” she said. “. . . Now we have a way to fix that.”
Even with the opportunity to sign up to vote on Election Day, Merrill was not optimistic about voter turnout for Tuesday’s local elections. She said there were few contested races across Connecticut, which generally means there’s little voter excitement.
“I’m expecting turnout to be relatively low,” she said, adding that it may be below 30 percent.
In 2011, voter turnout was 30.82 percent and in 2009 it was 36.4 percent.