Christine Stuart photo
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano with Sen. Michael McLachlan, Sen. Toni Boucher and Rep. Melissa Ziobron (Christine Stuart photo)

An agreement between Secretary of the State Denise Merrill and Department of Motor Vehicle Commissioner Michael Byzdra to develop an automatic voter registration system is an unnecessary and expensive proposition. That was the message from four Republican lawmakers who held a press conference Wednesday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to criticize the decision.

In response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s threat to sue Connecticut for not complying with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, Merrill and Byzdra inked an agreement to come up with an automatic voter registration system for drivers to use at the DMV when they renew their license.

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said the current paper process has no new implementation costs. It involves making sure drivers are given voter registration cards by an employee at the counter and that those cards are mailed to their respective towns.

The memorandum of understanding between Merrill and Byzdra sets forth a two year process for coming up with an automated way for drivers to register to vote at the DMV.

McLachlan alleged that a new software system, which doesn’t exist yet, would cost the state too much money when the DMV has already spent $26 million upgrading its system and Merrill got $12 million in bonding for capital improvements.

“Let’s use the current system that’s in place,” McLachlan said.

He said that system doesn’t cost the state any more money and doesn’t require the DMV to “fiddle with the new computer system that they have struggled to fully implement.”

The DMV ended its contract with 3M — the company that handled the computer upgrade — in April. However, it’s still trying to hold the company’s feet to the fire for the problems that resulted from the upgrade in August 2015. The upgrade caused long lines and a number of problems with registration of vehicles. According to the Meriden Record Journal, the DMV is still not sending information about suspended insurance policies to police departments because it doesn’t know if the information is accurate.

Merrill said Connecticut absolutely could use the paper-based system that’s been in place for 23 years. However, this would increase wait times at the Department of Motor Vehicles and cost the public more money for printing, postage, and labor.

“It is simply not efficient for DMV staff to offer and assist each customer in obtaining and completing a paper voter registration application and then transmitting the completed form via postal mail to the appropriate elections official on the customer’s behalf,” Merrill said Wednesday. “A more efficient and cost-effective way is available so we should use it.”

In Delaware, where an automatic voter registration system was implemented in 2008, the state saved $200,000 annually.

The memorandum of understanding inked earlier this month gives the DMV and the Secretary of the State’s office two years to come up with a suitable software system to automatically register voters when they go to the DMV.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Merrill, a former lawmaker, went behind lawmakers’ backs and inked this agreement knowing that lawmakers had rejected a similar proposal. That proposal died in the Transportation Committee.

“They saw fit to go behind our backs, in my view, and I think that’s wrong,” Fasano said.

He said they have the authority to put an agreement together, but he thinks it was wrong for them to do it.

“DMV can’t take the pressure,” Fasano said.

He said it’s just not the right time to move forward with a policy decision of this magnitude.

There’s also the fear by some that because Connecticut gives driver’s licenses to undocumented individuals that those individuals would somehow end up on the voter rolls. Those licenses are identified as “drive only” licenses and would not be recognized by the computer system.

“Any attempt to register with a drive only license would be unsuccessful under the current online voter registration system,” Merrill’s office has said. “As the proposal envisions using as much of the existing technology as possible, there is no reason to think that this potentially registers ineligible people.”

The Republican press conference prompted Connecticut Democratic Party Executive Director Michael Mandell to issue a statement aligning Connecticut Republicans with national voter suppression efforts.

“Today Connecticut Republicans proved once again that they share the same values as the GOP legislators from states like North Carolina and Texas who have passed restrictive voter suppression laws,” Mandell said. “I want to be very clear: Democrats support making it easier, not harder, for all citizens to participate in our democracy while Republicans want to limit access and prevent people from having their voices heard. Connecticut deserves better than the failed policies Republicans across the country have pushed.”

Fasano countered that they wouldn’t be having the discussion if the state had been complying with the federal law in the first place.

“It’s odd that the state Democrat party would attack Republicans when the Democrat administration are the ones who failed to comply with the law and increase voting registration,” Fasano said. “Their criticism is a cut-and-paste response from the ‘Democrat Party 101’ playbook. Republicans are saying let’s fix the system we have immediately — the system the Democrat administration has failed to actually follow.”