House approves same-day voter registration

A bill that would allow election-day voter registration won legislative approval Monday night after a long and partisan House debate.

“Once you’ve proven you are who you are, then you can go vote,” Rep. Russell Morin, D-Wethersfield, and co-chairman of the legislature’s elections committee, said summarizing the bill during a five-hour debate.

The final vote was 83-59, with nine Democrats voting with the Republicans in opposition. One Repbublican, Livvy Floren of Greenwich, voted in favor. The bill now heads to the state Senate with the support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“Passage of this legislation demonstrates Connecticut’s commitment to fair, accessible elections, and I applaud the House for their action on this bill. We’ve sent a clear signal to the rest of the country that Connecticut will not go in the direction of other states,” Malloy said.

“This is a major step forward in our effort to modernize elections in Connecticut and increase voter participation,” said Denise Merrill, the secretary of the state.

But Republican legislators adamantly opposed the bill and said they are convinced it will breed voter fraud.

“My right to vote is being infringed upon,” House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. of Norwalk, said of the possibility that people will vote at multiple locations. “I wouldn’t hold my breath they are going to get in trouble… I could be wrong, but [I am] not too confident.”

If someone is found to have voted illegally, the bill allows for them to be criminally prosecuted, but Morin said, “There is nothing that will happen to that vote. It will be counted.”

If the Senate passes the bill before the legislative session ends at midnight May 9, Connecticut will join a small group of states that allows voters to show up and vote. Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming all allow same-day registration.

Numerous reports have concluded that states with Election Day registration have higher voter turnout than states that do not.

Demos, a nonprofit group that advocates for same-day registration, reports that states that allow people to show up with identification and vote have on average a 10 percent to 12 percent higher voter turnout.

“Public participation in our election system has dropped dramatically… We have to make it more convenient for our citizens to vote,” said House Majority Leader J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. “We need to get as many people to vote as possible.”

But Republicans said higher voter turnout is not something the state should welcome if these new votes are fraudulent, especially when the state has a recent history of having close elections and Election Day mishaps.

During the most recent gubernatorial election, Malloy’s victory margin was less than one percentage point. Bridgeport ran out of ballots, and a bag of ballots was not counted on Election Day, though it was sealed and latter tallied under the supervision of both parties.

“We have a stain on our backs… Why would we do this?” Cafero asked.

But Democrats insist the necessary precautions are in place to avoid voter fraud. Voters now are allowed to register up to seven days before the election. This new system will allow voters to show identification with an address before they can vote.

“In the way we vote now, these types of things could happen,” Morin said. “Same-day registration is no different than any other form of registering” to vote.