On a day when Martin Luther King III came to Hartford to hail the state’s election reforms, a key legislative committee approved a controversial bill that would allow voter registration on Election Day for the first time.
King, the son of the slain civil rights leader, stood with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislators outside the governor’s office to say that Connecticut is trying to expand voting rights at the same time when many states are trying to restrict them.
“Connecticut will lead the nation,” King said, adding that he wanted to “commend you for what you’re embarking upon.”
Connecticut has been debating three key issues: House Bill 5022 on voter intimidation, House Bill 5024 on same-day voter registration, and House Joint Resolution 2, which is a Constitutional amendment that has passed both chambers. The constitutional amendment would eliminate the current restrictions on absentee ballots and switch to “no excuses” balloting – meaning that no reason at all would be needed to obtain an absentee ballot. Currently, a person has to certify that they are away at college or out of town on a business trip, for example.
Both chambers have passed the amendment, but they did not reach the required 75 percent level for the issue to be placed on the ballot in a statewide referendum this November. If both chambers pass the amendment again by a simple majority next year, then the issue would go on the ballot in November 2014.
Malloy said that Connecticut is “going in a very different direction than 32 other states” across the country. He noted that other states are requiring “a state-issued identification,” such as a driver’s license. But Malloy and others said that some elderly citizens do not have a photo ID because they no longer drive and do not have a license. They take the bus for their transportation needs in inner cities.
In the legislature’s appropriations committee, which began deliberating as Malloy was speaking, state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann said, “This bill makes photo ID optional. It doesn’t require it. We have thousands, tens of thousands of Connecticut residents who don’t have photo ID. They take the bus. They don’t drive.’’
During the meeting, Fleischmann answered questions from Sen. Len Suzio, a Republican from Meriden who is concerned about voter fraud.
“It’s legal to register to vote in multiple locations as long as you vote in only one? That’s legal in Connecticut?’’ Suzio asked.
“I think that’s essentially correct,’’ Fleischmann said. “You can only vote in one place or else you’re in violation of state law.’’
Fleischmann said that all property owners are permitted to vote in various elections, adding that some people own homes in two different towns in Connecticut.
“One year I can vote in town A, and in another year, I can vote in Town B?’’ Suzio asked.
A student at a college or university must decide whether to vote in their hometown or in the town where the college is located, Fleischmann said.
“The student has to choose one or the other,” Fleischmann said. “You only get one primary residence, which is the place where you’re permitted to vote.’’
Suzio said it is wrong to limit the chances of allowing someone to vote, adding, “I do believe it’s just as wrong to set up a system to fraudulently vote.” He added, “The testimony today tells me there’s plenty of opportunity for abuse for registering and voting.’’
Among the most controversial issues at the Capitol over the past decade has been Election Day voter registration – which has been batted back and forth by Republicans and Democrats for more than 10 years. The two sides have disagreed sharply over voter fraud and how to prevent it.
Some of the biggest fraud came in the 1986 primary in Waterbury when Gov. William A. O’Neill was running against fellow Democrat Toby Moffett, Republicans said.
The controversial issue has a long history, including a veto in 2003 by then-Gov. John G. Rowland and a federal court ruling in 2005 in Connecticut that rejected same-day registration. In 2009, the state House of Representatives debated for nearly six hours before approving the bill by 81 to 65. Only one House Republican – Rep. Livvy Floren of Greenwich – voted in favor of the bill that year. Floren has supported the bill since arriving at the legislature in January 2001, but she said she still supports the photo identification.
Despite various votes through the years by both chambers, the bill has never been signed into law.
In the GAE committee earlier this year, Sen. Gayle Slossberg, a Milford Democrat, clashed sharply with the Republican view about photo identifications.
“There couldn’t be a more fundamental split,” Slossberg said. “In Connecticut, we do not have any evidence of voter fraud when registering in person. Not one case. … We have many ways that we combat voter fraud in our state. We have a statewide voter registration database. … Absolutely no evidence of voter fraud in this area. But we do know that between 10 and 25 percent of our population does not have a photo ID. More often not, there are certain member of minority classes that do not have photo IDs. … My father was a World War II veteran, but he no longer had a photo ID because he no longer drove. … I strongly oppose this [Republican amendment]. In this day and age, our goal should be getting as many people as we can to vote.”
The Hartford Courant’s Jon Lender reports:
The voting rights bill, including the Election Day registration provisions, was proposed by Malloy and supported by Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. Other states that allow Election Day voter signups have seen increases of about 10 percent in turnout in certain elections, said Av Harris, a spokesman for Merrill’s office.
The same-day registration would take effect with the November 2013 municipal elections, and would require local registrars of voters to designate one location in town for processing of the applications. Applicants would have to complete a voter registration form and provide the same information normally required by law to register: birth certificate, driver’s license, or Social Security card. If these IDs don’t include proof of address, they could use a driver’s learner permit or a utility bill due no more than 30 days after the election.
The overall voting rights bill also calls for establishment of an online voter registration system for people whose identity and address could be verified through the Department of Motor Vehicles’ computer system or a Social Security database.
The 35-17 approval of House Bill 5024 came almost completely along Democrat-Republican lines and after significant controversy over GOP concerns that its “Election Day registration” provisions would open the door to voter fraud. Two Democrats, Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Rep. Peggy Sayers of Windsor Locks, joined 15 Republicans in opposing it.
“There is no verification,” said Rep. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield. He noted that current law only requires submission of a current utility bill as minimum proof of one’s identity, adding that if someone comes in on Election Day and wants to vote immediately, better verification should be required. He said that should be a photo ID, a form of proof of eligibility that he said is required in 30 states. Otherwise, someone could just use someone else’s utility bill and use that person’s name, Hwang said.
Hwang later Monday released the text of a newspaper op-ed essay that he has submitted for publication, which said: “My parents left China as teenagers to escape the tyranny of Communism. I was born in Taiwan under martial law, and I can tell you that nothing gives you a greater appreciation of the value of liberty and freedom than to live in a nation whose people have neither. I treasure the opportunities this country offers and the sanctity of our liberties and freedoms. These should be guaranteed by the power and truth of our votes on Election Day.”
Other Republicans agreed. Suzio said it would be “easy to fraudulently vote,” and there is “plenty of opportunity for abuse.”
But Fleischmann said in the other states where Election Day registration is legal – and the list includes Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Montana, Idaho, Iowa North Carolina, Wyoming, Maine, and Minnesota – there has not been a problem with fraud. “It’s never happened in this country – never in this country,” Fleischmann said.