Malloy, Merrill back easier registration, ballot access

As ballot access grows tighter in many states in the run up to the 2012 presidential election, Connecticut’s governor and top elections official said today they will try to streamline voter registration and ease access to absentee ballots.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he backs Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s call for legislation and a constitutional amendment necessary to modernize antiquated election rules and increase voter participation.

Nearly one-third of eligible voters are not registered, barely 30 percent of registered voters turned out in last fall’s municipal elections and only 57 percent voted in 2010, when Malloy won the closest gubernatorial election in a half-century.

Malloy Merrill

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill outlines proposed new voter laws.

“However complex the reasons may be — and they are — we must do something to reverse those numbers and increase voter participation,” Merrill said. “If I am able to do one thing in my time as secretary of the state, that would be it.”

Malloy and Merrill timed their announcement to coincide with a holiday marking the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who called ballot access a bedrock civil right.

In other states, questions of ballot access often have been intertwined with issues of race, economic status and partisan advantage.

“There has been a comprehensive and and coordinated assault on the right to vote,” said Bilal Sekou, the chairman of Common Cause in Connecticut

A study last fall by the New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found 14 states raising barriers to voting, sometimes in the name of security, by requiring types of voter identifications that one in 10 potential voters do not have.

“We must, of course, maintain the security and integrity of our elections, but never at the expense of disenfranchising a voter,” Merrill said.

Two states eliminated early voting, including Sunday voting heavily used by black churchgoers. At least 13 states either passed or debated legislation eliminating Election Day voter registration.

“These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as voters with disabilities,” the Brennan Center study concluded.

Those voters tend to vote Democratic, and the changes were implemented by Republican legislatures. But Merrill and Malloy say the changes sought in Connecticut have attracted at least some Republican support in the past.

“There are a lot of Republicans in this state who support each one of these proposals,” Malloy said.

Merrill is preparing a package of legislation that would allow Election Day voter registration, online voter registration, broader use of absentee ballots and stiffer penalties for voter harassment or intimidation.

Jerry Labriola Jr., the Republican state chairman, said the GOP will continue to oppose election-day registration.

“While I commend an effort to increase voter participation, instituting same day voter registration is simply not the answer. This is clearly an effort by the administration to keep themselves in power by making the voter rolls vulnerable and reducing ballot security,” Labriola said. There is no possible way that the registrars can send a confirmatory letter to verify that a potential voter is a valid one on the same day they register.”

The use of absentee ballots in Connecticut is now limited by the state Constitution to voters who cannot go to the polls due to religious reasons, absence from their city or towns, or sickness or physical disability.

Only Connecticut and New York set rules for use of absentee ballots in their constitutions. Merrill said she is seeking a constitutional amendment allowing the General Assembly to determine when the ballots can be used.

“The Constitution is not supposed to be a how-to guide,” she said.

To be included on the ballot, a constitutional amendment would have to be supported by 75 percent of the legislators in each chamber or a simple majority of the legislature in successive years.

Election Day voter registration is a perennial issue in Connecticut, often pitting Democrats against Republicans, who have said that last-minute registration may increase fraud and is a burden on local registrars.

 

Labriola indicated today that battle will continue.

“While I commend an effort to increase voter participation, instituting same day voter registration is simply not the answer. This is clearly an effort by the administration to keep themselves in power by making the voter rolls vulnerable and reducing ballot security,” Labriola said. There is no possible way that the registrars can send a confirmatory letter to verify that a potential voter is a valid one on the same day they register.”

Merrill said there is no evidence it leads to fraud, and a statewide, centralized voter database is both a protection against fraud and a tool that eliminates the need for the present ban on registrations for seven days before the election.

 

Setting the deadline a week ahead of elections was necessary to process paperwork and amend the voter rolls before the centralized data base, she said.

“It’s time to reflect the technologies that are available to us,” Malloy said.

House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, and Rep. Russell A. Morin, D-Wethersfield, the co-chairman of the legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, attended the news conference to show their support of the measures.

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