The U.S. Department of Justice said it’s planning to sue Connecticut for failure to comply with a section of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, if it doesn’t fix the problem.
The section of the law the Justice Department is accusing Connecticut of violating is related to motor vehicle registration.
“Our investigation indicates widespread noncompliance with Section 5 in Connecticut,” Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general, said in a April 15 letter to state officials. “Throughout the state, it appears that applications for a Connecticut driver’s licence or non-driver identification card generally do not serve as applications for voter registration with respect to elections for Federal office, and that change of address forms do not serve as notification of a change of address for voter registration purposes if the applicant is moving between two towns.”
A spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles said Wednesday that they are “working to ensure the state is in compliance with the federal motor-voter law.”
The Justice Department agreed to delay filing the lawsuit if the state agrees to work on compliance.
“We hope to resolve this matter amicably and avoid protracted litigation,” Gupta wrote.
Earlier this year, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill worked with lawmakers to streamline the motor-voter registration system at the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is currently upgrading its computer system. The process has been plagued with problems, including one which caused the entire system to crash Tuesday.
The DMV warned residents to avoid a trip to the DMV Wednesday as they work to resolve the issue, which, according to a spokesman, will be resolved by Thursday.
The basic idea behind Merrill’s proposed legislation, which the DMV testified against, was that anyone who does business with the DMV would automatically be registered to vote — and update the address for those already on the rolls if they’ve moved — unless they specifically request to remain unregistered.
Merrill said that one-third of Connecticut residents who are eligible to vote are not registered. She said she figures at least 20 percent of the unregistered people would wind up on the rolls if her automatic registration measure is adopted.
“I have been striving for more than five years to make voting more convenient for the people of Connecticut,” Merrill said Wednesday. “That’s why we introduced automatic voter registration this year. I look forward to working with state and federal partners to bring this exciting voting modernization initiative to the state. This letter reminds us of the urgency to get this done.”
Merrill said the governor’s office and the Department of Motor Vehicles are working to resolve the issue without legislation.
The Attorney General’s office is also engaged on behalf of the state with the Department of Justice regarding the letter.