While the advance deadline for registering to vote has passed, a last-minute option is still available for those who wish to vote in Tuesday’s municipal election.
A bill passed by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2012 will allow state residents to register and vote on Election Day. The idea behind Election Day registration is to make voting easier, said Av Harris, spokesperson for Secretary of State Denise Merrill. A number of states employ Election Day registration, some for as long as 40 years, he said. Connecticut joins 11 other states that allow Election Day registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
States that use Election Day registration have, on average, a 9 or 10 percent higher voter turnout, he said. The program is helpful, Harris added, “because if you are a late decider, or too busy, that shouldn’t keep you from voting.”
House Bill 5024, an act concerning voting rights, was originally proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office and was introduced to the legislature by Meriden state Rep. Christopher Donovan, who in 2012 served as speaker of the house. Malloy’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
While the ability to register on Election Day is seen as a positive by the state, local election officials said the new program will be a burden.
“We’ve fought this for years,” said Maureen Flynn, Meriden’s Democratic registrar.
It won’t be a problem this year because voter turnout isn’t as high during municipal elections, she said, but during the gubernatorial election next year or the presidential election in 2016, “it’s going to be crazy.”
The process of registering residents on Election Day will be time consuming, she said. This is a problem, Flynn added, because her office was already busy enough on Election Day to begin with.
“It’s the responsibility of voters to make sure they register ahead of time,” Flynn said.
Election Day registration is more involved than regular voter registration, especially for election officials, who must communicate to make sure a resident hasn’t registered or already voted in another town. When registering on Election Day, residents must visit their local registrar of voter’s office. Those registering must declare under oath that they have not already voted in the election. Applicants must provide identification that includes proof of address. If an applicant’s address is not listed on their identify, they can provide other forms of proof, such as a utility bill that has a due date that is not later than thirty days after the election. If an applicant satisfies identification protocols, election officials must then check the state-wide centralized voter registration system to make sure they are not already registered elsewhere.
Applicants already registered in a municipality can switch their registration to another town on Election Day. This requires election officials to call and immediately notify the municipality where the applicant is previously registered so that they can be removed from the official voter list. If an applicant is found to have already voted in the election, they aren’t allowed to participate in Election Day registration.
Registrar offices throughout the state will become an alternate polling station on Election Day for residents who have yet to register. Those participating in Election Day registration will vote at the registrar’s office, not a polling station.
Southington Town Clerk Leslie Cotton said there are inconsistencies in the Election Day registration law. The cutoff for registration was last Tuesday, but on Wednesday, Cotton said residents came to her office and tried to register. But they couldn’t since the deadline had passed.
“So those folks can’t vote on Tuesday, however they can walk in on Election Day and vote,” Cotton said. “There was not a whole lot of forethought on Election Day registration when it was voted on. It doesn’t seem to make sense.”
Asked why the state would bother installing a registration deadline a week prior to the election if people can still register on Election Day, Harris said “that’s an interesting question.”
“We didn’t come up with the legislation,” he said. “It was the governor’s bill.”
The prospect of people registering to vote on Election Day is “not something we are really looking forward to,” Cotton said.
But Election Day registration is something new, Cotton said, and “often times, folks are a little weary of new things.”
Cotton said she doesn’t expect many people to show up and register on Tuesday because the state hasn’t advertised the new program. She thought of placing a legal notice in the local newspaper to make people aware, but the Secretary of State’s office advised her not to.
“I think for some reason they’ve intentionally kept it under wraps,” Cotton said.
Registrars have enough trouble verifying addresses under the current system, said Chet Miller, Wallingford’s Republican registrar.
“There is concern about fraud,” Miller said.
Voter fraud will be easier on Election Day, agreed Flynn. “We’re not looking forward to it at all,” she said.
The added element of registration to the chaos that exists in the registrar’s office on Election Day could create issues, Miller said. “This is a whole new battery of telephone calls we’re going to be dealing with.”
The new program shouldn’t be a problem, said Ann Marie Hearn, the Democratic registrar in Cheshire, “it’s just that there are a lot of days during the year when you can register to vote.”
Registration on Election Day is a longer process, she said, “but I think we can handle it.”
“I guess it does give people a chance to vote,” Hearn added. “But it adds a not insignificant complication to an already busy day. We’re happy to be in compliance though.”