HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut residents may soon be able to register to vote online and in person on Election Day, if new voting modernization proposals are passed by state lawmakers.
The proposals, recommended by a task force that has been examining ways to update the state's election system, aim to increase Connecticut's voter registration and turnout rates. [Read these proposals in detail at www.sots.ct.gov]
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, the state's top election official, said that one in three eligible voters in Connecticut is not registered to vote. Allowing people to register at the polling locations on Election Day or online, she said, would help to increase the state's voting rates.
According to Merrill's office, less than one-third of Connecticut voters turned out for the 2010 August primary. Meanwhile, just over half of state voters cast ballots in the general election that year, which included races for governor, U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.
Merrill urged state lawmakers Friday to make the voter registration simpler and more modern.
"Our system is old, costly and inconvenient," she said.
The task force's 21 recommendations include a state constitutional amendment that would remove absentee ballot voting restrictions, the implementation of an online electronic reporting system for election results, and a certification process for municipal election officials. The task force also recommends making Election Day a state holiday.
The proposed constitutional amendment comes in response to the aftermath of the October snowstorm that kept many people from being able to reach the polls for the state's municipal elections. The amendment would make it easier for citizens to vote by absentee ballot in future elections and would allow the state to consider other options, like allowing early voting for individuals unable to get to the polls on Election Day. The amendment would need support from three-quarters of the legislature, and then it would go to the voters on the November ballot.
Merrill and members of the task force discussed some of these proposals at a meeting Friday in Hartford. The General Assembly's Government Administration and Elections Committee later heard arguments on the constitutional amendment, the Election Day and online voter registration bill and a measure to increase penalties for voter tampering increased penalties bills.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, the committee's co-chair, said that many people do not pay attention to campaigns until close to Election Day and fail to register to vote before the deadline. Because of this, she said, individuals should be able to register at the polls and exercise their right to vote.
Slossberg also said she supports online voter registration and that it would eliminate most of the costs associated with processing paper registrations.
According to the report, the proposed online voter registration system would be connected with the Department of Social Services, Department of Developmental Services and the Department of Motor Vehicles for data verification and security purposes. Individuals looking to register online would need to have a driver's license. Merrill assured that the online systems will be secure.
In addition to potentially saving costs, the new proposals would aim to increase voter registration rates for college students, the elderly and minorities.
Bilal Sekou, board chair of Common Cause in Connecticut and task force member, said the low voter turnout problem is troublesome because voting is one of the only direct ways for citizens to make their voices heard.
Although a majority of people who testified support the measures, others who opposed them questioned the security and protections of the proposals.
Luther Weeks, the executive director of both CTVotersCount.org , spoke against the Election Day registration proposal. Weeks said the proposal does not protect the rights of voters and will lead to chaos at polling locations. He also raised concerns that people could be turned away if standing in line to register to vote when the polls close. Weeks also is executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Election Audit Coalition, which monitors postelection audits in Connecticut, but doesn't have a consensus position on the proposal.
Christopher Healy, the former Connecticut Republican Party chairman, testified against both Election Day and online voter registration. Healy argued that the two systems would lead to voter fraud because same-day registration is not verified until after votes are cast. He said online registration is only as good as the people updating the system.
"I think you're just setting up more fraud and more distance between the people and the actual act of voting," he said.
Currently, nine states have online voter registration systems. Meanwhile, 35 states have implemented an early voting option or no-excuse absentee ballots like the one proposed by the constitutional
The Government Administration and Elections Committee still must pass the three proposed bills along for votes by both the House and Senate, as well as hear arguments on the other recommendations.
If passed, the changes to the state's election system would likely not go into effect until the 2013 municipal elections.
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