Protecting Voting Rights on the Front Burner as Election Year Kicks Off

With conservatives continuing to back state efforts to suppress the vote as a critical election year begins, Connecticut officials chose the anniversary of Martin Luther King's birthday last Monday to announce a package of election reforms that would boost voter participation and protect the right to vote. The legislation announced by Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, and Secretary of State Denise Merrill includes Election Day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and online voter registration — reforms that have proven successful and popular in a bevy of states.

In a press release announcing the proposed legislation, Governor Malloy noted,

"Today, I can think of no better statement to make in memory of Dr. King than to expand and assure access to voting rights, given everything he stood and worked so hard for. While some states are suppressing voter turnout, we are moving in the opposite direction and working to improve access to elections and align our electoral system with 21st century technology. Voting is a great responsibility, and an enormous opportunity, and, following in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we have an obligation to make every effort to preserve citizens' access to the polls."

Election Day registration (EDR), which allows people to both register and vote on Election Day, has been adopted in some form in nine states and is widely seen as a secure way to both increase turnout and cut down on the need for provisional ballots. While Iowa could only claim top ten voter turnout status for a handful of election cycles prior to passing EDR, after EDR was implemented in time for the 2008 elections, the state jumped to 5th in the nation for voter turnout. North Carolina's similar system of same day registration (SDR) — in which voters can register and vote in the early voting period immediately preceding the election — boosted turnout 8% compared to 2004, in what was the biggest turnout increase in the nation. Of the 253,000 voters who used SDR during 2008's early voting period, 105,000 were first time voters in their counties. Others used SDR to update their voter registrations, avoiding the need to vote by provisional ballot and saving election administrators valuable time and resources.

Though every state once required voters to provide a reason for their inability to get to the polls on Election Day in order to receive an absentee ballot, 28 states have eliminated the excuse requirement and never looked back — a testament to how secure the reform has proved to be. Amending Connecticut’s constitution to allow for no-excuse absentee would not only benefit workers and those saddled with child care or elder care responsibilities, but also give registrars the flexibility to deal with special circumstances. This would have protected the vote in last November’s election, when, after a snowstorm in October forced many state residents to relocate to shelters, registrars could not offer absentee ballots because of extreme rigidity of the constitutional provision.

Online voter registration has been enacted in states as diverse as Indiana, Louisiana, Washington, and California and has been touted as a cost-cutting way to streamline election administration. The system saves time by bypassing the need to input registration card information by hand while also avoiding delays caused by poor handwriting. In Arizona, voter registration numbers increased by 10% in the first year of online voter registration, and now over 70% of registrations occur online. After Washington enacted online voter registration in 2008, 160,000 registered online in the system's first year alone.

In her remarks, Lt. Governor Wyman said Connecticut’s proposals will mean that “more of our residents will have a voice in how their tax dollars are spent, what kind of health care system we have, how their children are educated, and so many other aspects of their lives.” Echoing Dr. King’s vision, these values could not stand in starker contrast to those pushing divisive efforts to suppress the vote for partisan gain in the states.

Full Resources from this Article

Protecting Voting Rights on the Front Burner as Election Year Kicks Off

CT News Junkie — Merrill, Malloy Propose Election Legislation, Including Controversial Election Day Registration
Office of Governor Dannel P. Malloy — Gov. Malloy and Secretary of State Merrill Call for Preserving Access to Elections
Demos — Voters Win with Same Day Registration


This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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