Panel kills Primary Day voter registration bill

The state legislature’s Appropriations Committee killed a bill Monday that would have allowed residents to register and cast ballots on the same day during the 2011 municipal primaries.

The pilot program, which was rejected 39-11 with bipartisan opposition, also had been opposed by municipal registrars of voters, who saw it as the first step toward general Election Day registration.

“What a nightmare it is for them, logistically, to implement this,” Sen. Daniel Debicella of Shelton, the ranking Republican senator on the Democrat-controlled Appropriations Committee, said.

Primaries are meant to allow political parties to resolve their respective nominations for offices, said Rep. Deborah Heinrich, D-Madison, adding she fears the bill would lead to a mass of last-minute registrations from voters interested only in casting a primary ballot, and not in remaining with their new party. “I don’t see that exactly as the system working,” she said.

election bill

Election bill defeated. Despite support from co-chairs John Geragosian, D-New Britain, and Toni Harp, D-New Haven, the Appropriations Committee rejected a bill to allow voter registration on Primary Day. (Keith M. Phaneuf)

Advocates of allowing same-day voter registration argue it is an effective tool to boost voter participation. Nine states currently offer some form of Election Day registration: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

“They are a rousing success” in those states, said Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a supporter of the measure defeated Monday.

Another advocate, Rep. Gary A. Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, questioned whether any registration surge on Primary Day 2011 would be unmanageable. There are deadlines shortly before the primaries and general elections now, he said, “and I don’t see everybody running in to register on the last day.”

Connecticut law requires potential voters to postmark their applications at least two weeks before a primary or general election if they are registering by mail. If doing so in person, residents must register at least seven days beforehand.

To guard against fraud, municipal registrars of voters must check applications against the statewide voter database maintained by the secretary of the state’s office.

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, Connecticut’s chief elections official and a supporter of the pilot program, said there is adequate protection in place. “I feel very comfortable we would be in a situation where there would not be any fraud,” she said.

Bysiewicz added that states that already offer same-day registration generally enjoy 10 percent higher voter participation.

But Hamden Republican Registrar Anthony V. Esposito, president of the Connecticut Association of Registrars of Voters, said Monday same-day registration would require having a computer available near every voting location where registration also is allowed.

The bill would have allowed communities to register voters during the 2011 primary at just one location per city or town. But Esposito said that would be confusing to new voters, who would register and one site, and then have to cast ballots at another.

The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that communities with primaries in 2011 would face about $5,000 in added costs if forced to register voters on primary day.

“It still represents a tremendous, unfunded mandate,” Esposito said.

The bill defeated Monday had been approved earlier this year by the Government Administration and Elections Committee. That panel had advanced an Election Day registration measure last year that was adopted in the House of Representatives, but died without a vote on the Senate calendar.

Rep. James F. Spallone, D-Essex, co-chairman of the government administration panel, said he hoped a pilot program aimed only at municipal primaries would be received as an acceptable compromise. Only 12 municipalities had primaries in 2009, and Spallone said he hoped the 2010 legislation would be seen as a small-scale alternative.

“I did feel there was significant momentum last year and we’d like to keep that going,” Spallone said, adding that in tough fiscal times, any proposal that increase local expenses faces an uphill fight.