HARTFORD, CT — A bill designed to increase voter turnout and cut back on long lines at the polls was approved Tuesday, largely along party lines, by a vote of 85 to 60 in the House of Representatives.
Among other things the bill expands access to election-day registration and reduces long lines by allowing registrars, with the permission of the Secretary of the State, to establish more than one election-day registration location in each respective municipality.
The bill also allows people on parole to register and vote. The bill added a clause removing those voting rights if a person on parole winds up incarcerated again.
Rep. Dan Fox, D-Stamford, said the overall goal of the law is to make it “more convenient” for people to vote, while ensuring that all who vote are doing so legally. Gov. Ned Lamont applauded the House’s passage of the bill, which still has to pass the Senate before going to his desk.
“As Americans, it is our duty to make voting and voter registration easier and more accessible to every eligible citizen,” Lamont said. “We must promote maximum participation in the democratic process and use technology to increase access to the ballot for all communities.
The bill also enacts automatic voter registration by automatically registering eligible voters unless they decline to register, and it codifies current protections that prevent non-citizens from registering to vote. It will speed up the electronic voter registration process and licensing transactions by digitizing voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles, other voter registration agencies, and public colleges and universities.
The bill also requires registrars to submit their plans for election-day registration to the Secretary of the State for review and potential modification.
Some municipalities, notably New Haven, have seen large turnout on Election Day in recent years and small staffs have been unable to handle large crowds of people waiting to register — and then vote — on the same day.
“While this bill addresses Election Day Registration, it doesn’t completely eliminate the problems we experienced on Election Day 2018,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said. “I will keep fighting to ensure that voters who are in line at 8 p.m. at an Election Day Registration polling place are allowed to vote — just like they would be able to at any other polling place.”
Merrill said the bill has much in it that she likes.
“Connecticut has a proud tradition of leading the way when it comes to reforming our elections to make them accessible to every eligible voter. This bill falls squarely in that tradition,” Merrill said.
“This bill would lower the barriers to registering and casting a ballot, expand the franchise to more potential voters, and modernize our elections,” Merrill said.
On the issue of allow people on probation to vote, proponents said it would eliminate the confusion between probation and parole, and would help prevent recidivism by encouraging people to re-enter the civic life of their community when they return home.
“This argument will reduce disenfranchisement and restore fairness to our Democratic process,” said Rep. Brandon McGee, co-chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus.
But that argument didn’t wash with many legislators, such as Rep. David Labriola, R-Oxford.
“This is a major shift in policy,” Labriola said, which he added “is an affront” to families who are victims of crimes. He said the bill would give “a person a right to vote after committing heinous offenses.” He termed it a “solution to a problem that does not exist.”
The bill would also allow absentee ballots to be requested online and the online voter registration system to be used by any eligible voter, not just by people who have a Connecticut driver’s license.