Merrill says Connecticut ‘motor voter’ system hits fast lane

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill

mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill (File photo.)

Connecticut registered more voters through the Department of Motor Vehicles in the past month than it did over three previous calendar years, when federal officials complained its “motor voter” system was so ineffectual as to be in violation of a U.S. civil rights law.

The secretary of the state’s office reported Monday the registration of 14,693 new voters through an improved DMV system established under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Voters who registered at the DMV numbered 3,323 in 2013; 3,948 in 2014, and 2,703 in 2014.

The strong results are no surprise: The state registered nearly 700 new voters the first two days after the new system was launched.

“Even while we know the collection of past data is an imperfect science, we do know this— more people will get registered to vote if we give them fast and easy opportunities to do so. The new system proves that,” Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said.

Under the settlement negotiated by the Justice Department, the secretary of state’s office and the DMV, a voter registration system will be electronically integrated into the licensing system so that every application for a license, renewal or photo ID “shall function as an application to register to vote, unless the customer chooses to opt out.”

The streamlined system now prompts customer service agents at the DMV to offer a voter registration form during every transaction.  A fully automated system is expected in two years.

“We are very pleased with these numbers and the important path to voting they bring to all those signing up. Voting is critical for a healthy democracy,” said Michael Bzdyra, the commissioner of motor vehicles.

The settlement ended an investigation that concluded the state was in violation of the National Voting Rights Act of 1993.

Officials say if the pace remains consistent the number of voters registered at the DMV likely will match or surpass all other means combined.

In 2015, about 79,000 new voters registered by mail, online, in-person or by another means, a monthly average of around 6,583. In 2014, the monthly average was around 8,595. In 2012, a presidential year, the monthly average was around 16,450.

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