Election Day Registration: Be prepared for lines and dissapointment

Insanity:
1) doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
– Albert Einstein
2) doing something different from what has been done over and over and expecting the same result. – The Land of [un]Steady Habits

On Election Day, next Tuesday, Connecticut inaugurates Election Day Registration (EDR).  Election Day Registration has be successfully employed for years in several states, with increased turnout and without significant fraud. Unfortunately, we are trying our own version, expecting the same results:

  • Other states have done EDR in polling places, essentially accepting the voters word that they have not voted elsewhere, under stiff penalties for fraud after the fact. Presumably, very few would risk penalties for voting illegally – the challenge is to get voters to vote in the first place.
  • Connecticut requires them to go to a central location and for officials to actually register them on the spot. Plus if they are already registered in Connecticut, in the name of fraud protection, we call the other town and wait ten minutes for a call-back if they have previously voted. It is a time consuming process, even if there are sufficient lines to handle peak volume and the state’s central voter registration system performs under such stress.

We seem to be of two or three minds:

  • We expect the same results as other states: A 5%-8% increase in turnout.
  • Without the experience of other states: That turn-out increase comes with the work of 20% to 30% election day registrations. So we expect and prepare for a maximum of around 5%  registrations on election day.
  • We judge that very few will register on election day. We look at past experience with the Presidential Ballot, where unregistered voters could go to Town Hall and only vote for President, it a state where it usually does not make much difference. (Ignoring the huge turn-out at the last minute in 2012 in New Haven and Hartford, and the huge lines we saw then, in a considerably less time intensive process)

CTVotersCount Opinions/Warnings:

We have been against this law since we first read the versoin proposed to the legislature in 2010. We are in favor of Election Day Registration based on success and safety in other states – but not this way.

  • It will likely start slow this year, with few potential voters aware of it. For the most part, this is a low interest, low turnout election. In the long run we predict, our results and work will likely ramp up to about half the levels of other states that make it convenient – on average across the state.
  • Yet some year there will be a huge turnout, based on last minute voter excitement, a close race, perhaps coupled with party/candidate activity on Election Day. – especially in large towns with huge voter turn-over and many unregistered citizens. There is even that potential this year in New Haven and Bridgeport.
  • We will know better after this year, but a single line can handle at most 10 to 15 voters in an hour. What if 1000 voters show up in some town between 7:00 and 7:30, that would require 67 lines!!! – Assuming there were no citizens in line already at 7:00.

There is one more issue in this unproven, almost unmanageable scheme:

  • The Secretary of the States Office has procedures that, unlike polling places, those in line at 8:00pm cannot register.
  • Worse, officials have control over who and how many register: Anyone not registered by 8:00pm, according to procedures issued by the Secretary of the State cannot register.  Officials at each local EDR location can effect who that last person is – officials running the election determine in advance the number of lines, which can limit the total number of people who can register – favoring the party, expected to have fewer election day hopefuls.
  • Worse, likely a civil rights issue in statewide elections, our understanding is that the law will not be applied equally across the State. Some officials believe that people in line at 8:00 should be allowed to register and vote. Since the Secretary’s procedures are not enforceable they are presumably free to interpret the law that way.

Maybe not this year, but sometime soon, in a high interest election, we will have a huge turn-out for Election Day Registration, and many voters and candidates disappointed at 8:00pm.

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