HARTFORD, CT — Advocates for making voting easier are calling for Connecticut to join at least 16 other states in legislatively adopting Automatic Voter Registration.
Automatic Voter Registration was implemented administratively through the Department of Motor Vehicles in 2016 and since then a record number of individuals submitted new voters registrations. However, the agreement with the DMV is limited in its scope because it only captures voters who are also drivers.
The legislation the General Administration and Elections Committee debated Monday would expand registration efforts to allow other state agencies to participate.
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Advocates said it would also streamline what historically have been chaotic Election Day cycles in the state, especially during very heavy turnouts, which was the case in the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 mid-term elections.
“It’s a good bill,” Common Cause in Connecticut Executive Director Cheri Quickmire said in an interview right before the start of the public hearing.
She said which agencies would be eligible to be part of the registration program is something that would still need to be worked out. But she thought “adding state colleges and universities would be likely be a good addition.” Working through the college system “would be a way to get a lot of our young people engaged,” she said.
Quickmire said one benefit of the bill is it might stem the flood of same-day registrations that have plagued the state in certain cities in the recent elections — notably New Haven and Mansfield — where many college students have come to the polls to register to vote on Election Day.
That surge in last-minute registrations has caused big lines at some polling locations in those communities. In some cases, specifically in New Haven, many voters had to wait hours to vote. Some who were frustrated by the length of the wait opted to give up and went home.
“There’s no question that Connecticut’s elections need to be modernized, and we can achieve that by passing AVR,” Quickmire said. “It’s a common-sense step that’s been implemented in states across the country, one that is a critical to modernizing our government, improving our elections processes, and ensuring up-to-date voter rolls.”
But there is bound to be some opposition, right?
In 2016, Republicans were critical of the AVR agreement Merrill struck with the DMV, which was under pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“This isn’t a partisan issue — it’s a pragmatic one,” Quickmire said. “As it expands the right to vote, AVR is an opportunity to reduce data entry for poll workers, so they can focus on running our elections seamlessly. It saves time and money.”
As of Monday there was no testimony in opposition to the concept uploaded to the Connecticut General Assembly website.
Both Quickmire and another advocate, Connecticut Citizen Action Group Director Tom Swan, said they “weren’t sure” whether there would be opposition to the bill.
“Hopefully not,” Swan said. “After all voting is traditionally a bipartisan issue.”
Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said he hadn’t looked at the bill closely enough yet to take a position.
“I will say this — I do think there is an element of personal responsibility involved when it comes to voting,” Sampson said, adding that he wanted to reserve the right to review any language allowing automatic registration before committing himself one way or another on the bill.
Swan said passing AVR is a no-brainer.
He said it would “increase voter turnout and save money in the process.”
Swan reasoned that if there was less people registering at the polls in the last minute run-up to an election, then there would no longer be the need to bring in additional staff, especially in bigger cities, to handle the number of late registrants.
Swan and Quickmire said another added benefit of the bill is that it would the cash-starved state save a few bucks on elections.
By moving from paper to electronic methods, AVR eliminates the costs of provisional ballots, costly paper transactions, and manual data entry, they said. While there is a small initial startup cost for AVR, long-term savings will be achieved after implementation, both claimed.