What is wrong with CT’s Election Day Registration

Late last month, we testified on  a bill, S.B. 250 that would modify Connecticut’s Election Day Registration (EDR) law. We did not testify for or against the proposed change, clearly aimed at making life easier for registrars and election day workers* at the expense of convenience to the public.  It would curtail EDR at 7:00pm rather than 8:00pm currently in place.  This change would be a disservice to voters by not only curtailing hours, but for the many that are likely to assume that EDR is open until 8:00pm like polling places.  Yet there are larger problems with Connecticut’s EDR law and procedures implemented by the Secretary of the State. Here are several of those problems:

  • As I testified, it is a Civil Rights/Voting Rights violation waiting to happen.  The problem is that the Secretary of the State’s procedures require that those in line at 8:00pm cannot have the opportunity to register and vote. Actually it has already happened as we had long predicted, yet was not acted upon on behalf of those denied a fair opportunity to register and vote.  From the comments by the Committee during the hearing, it seems they get the problem, if not the complete understanding of a risk of an embarrassing Federal suit.
  • An EDR location is not a polling place.  So, anyone can walk in and talk to or solicit voters in the EDR location; signs required to be posted at polling places such as ballots, voters bill of rights etc. are not required to be posted; votes are not submitted to scanners, increasing the odds that the new voters will overvote unintentionally; the leader is not required to be a Certified Moderator; and who knows what else?
  • It only applies to Election Day. That is right, it does not apply to this coming Presidential Preference Primary or any of the highly charged primaries we have from time to time for Governor, Senator, or Representative.  I addition to preventing citizens from voting in those primaries, it could be a vehicle to bring more voters into the process, initiating a lifetime of participation.
  • It risks chaos in a not so sunny November or for a local power/internet outage.  One of the Secretary of the State’s proudest accomplishments if a requirement for emergency plans and an associated Model Plan.  Unfortunately, the Model Plan has no contingency for EDR.  We point out that EDR is very special – it requires access to a functioning Central Voter Registration System (CVRS) to register voters – it requires access to a phone system to connect with registrars’ offices throughout the state.  Without that system there is no guidance on a contingency.  Do all registrations stop?  Do registrations continue, but votes held for checking with other towns and the CVRS when the situation is corrected?Should there be a contingency including a complete printed CVRS list for each town?  That way if the CVRS goes down that list could be used.  (The CVRS regularly goes down or officials get locked out based on high volume or other problems.  e.g. It went down in the fall of 2015 on the very last day when officials were required to print voter lists for the Nov election).
  • It is not the system so successful in other states.  Most states with EDR allow registration in any polling place, trusting the voter and large penalties for voting in more than one place.  We are doing something different than other states, inconveniencing voters, making more work for officials and expecting the same increase in turn-out.

Let me end on a positive note.  Twice I have lead the EDR function in my town.  It is a very positive experience seeing citizens register to vote.  Citizens willing to accept the hassles of EDR to participate in Democracy.  Also to see voters who, through no error of their own, thrown off the registration system give us the opportunity to successfully fix the problem.

* Individuals working at EDR sites are not “pollworkers” since the law is very clear that EDR is not conducted at a polling place.


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