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Press Releases

02/20/2020

Secretary of the State Denise Merrill Announces Legislative Proposal

An Act Concerning Elections includes the codification and expansion of Automatic Voter Registration, the streamlining and regulation of Election Day Registration, and the expansion of voter registration eligibility to people on parole

HARTFORD - Secretary of the State Denise Merrill today announced An Act Concerning Elections, her proposal for the 2020 legislative session. The proposal includes concepts that were before the legislature last legislative session, like the codification and expansion of Automatic Voter Registration, the streamlining and regulation of Election Day Registration, and the expansion of voter registration eligibility for people on parole to match the eligibility of people on probation.

“Taken together, these reforms will make it easier for eligible Connecticut citizens to participate in our democracy and to choose the people who will represent them in government,” said Secretary Merrill. “Each of these proposals will help ensure that every eligible Connecticut resident easily register, and every registered voter can conveniently vote.”

“Connecticut has always been a leader in making sure that every citizen can participate in our democracy, and this legislation in particular will ensure that Connecticut’s election system is fair and open to everyone,” said Senator Mae Flexer, Senate Chair of the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee. “It’s critical that we codify our practices for automatic voter registration and new ways for people to register to vote anytime they interact with state government. It’s also important that we make reforms to our election-day registration system. I have personally seen people turned away from the polls at 8 p.m. That’s wrong. The GAE Committee is committed to working on this legislation as quickly as possible, holding a public hearing, and passing this legislation along to the House and senate for votes as quickly as possible. It’s critical that we do this in an election year.”

"It is our hope and goal to make voting more efficient and accessible and to encourage maximum participation in our elections. I believe these ideas will do just that," said House Chair of the GAE Committee Representative Dan Fox. "I applaud the Secretary of the State for her initiative and as we embark on the upcoming election season look forward to further discussion and debate surrounding these concepts."

Since Automatic Voter Registration implementation was begun administratively in August of 2016, more than 400,000 new Connecticut voters have used AVR at the DMV to register, and more than 550,000 voters have made changes to their registrations. The full implementation, including hardware purchased with bond funds released in February of 2018, is being piloted now and is expected to be fully implemented before the 2020 election. The proposed legislation would enshrine this wildly successful program in Connecticut law, and would ease its implementation in other Voter Registration Agencies as defined by Section 7 of the federal National Voter Registration Act. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 16 states and the District of Columbia, including Connecticut, currently have some form of AVR.

“Automatic Voter Registration through the DMV has been a smashing success in easing voter registration for eligible Connecticut residents,” said Secretary Merrill. “It’s time to experience that same success at other agencies across Connecticut.”

Since Election Day Registration was first used in the 2013 election, more than 60,000 voters have been able to newly register, change their registration to a new address, or fix administrative issues on Election Day, ensuring that all eligible voters who want to vote are able to vote. Although the program has helped scores of voters, long lines have occasionally made registering and voting more difficult for eligible potential voters. According to the NCSL, 21 states and the District of Columbia, including Connecticut, currently have or are implementing some form of same day voter registration. This proposal would address long lines by requiring towns to submit EDR plans for approval by the Secretary’s office more than 30 days in advance of Election Day, allow towns to voluntarily create an additional EDR location to manage demand, and allows people who are in line for EDR at 8:00pm to vote, just as people in line at 8:00pm at a polling place are allowed to vote.

“Election Day Registration can be a lifesaver for potential voters who, because of a move, the busyness of life, or an administrative error through no fault of their own, need to be able to register on Election Day in order to vote,” said Secretary Merrill. “Streamlining and regulating the process to prevent long lines will allow more eligible, potential, and enthusiastic voters to cast their ballots on Election Day!”

Currently Connecticut law allows people on probation, but not people on parole to vote. This distinction between parolees and probationers causes confusion and often leads to eligible voters not exercising their voting rights out of fear of a lack of eligibility. According to the NCSL, 18 states and the District of Columbia, including all of New England except for Connecticut, currently allow both people on probation and people on parole to vote. This bill would eliminate the distinction between parole and probation for the purposes of voting and restore voting rights to people once they are no longer serving a term of incarceration.

“This legislation codifies my firmly-held belief that those who have paid their debt to society deserve to have their voting rights restored immediately upon release from incarceration,” said Secretary Merrill. “Reinstating voting rights simultaneously with the physical release from prison will also eliminate widespread confusion among parolees and registrars, and remove the need to distinguish between probation and parole as it relates to voting.”

“I’m thrilled that we have a Secretary of the State who is dedicated to making democracy more accessible,” said Senator Will Haskell, Vice Chair of the GAE Committee. “Everyone has a voice and a vote; these reforms will make sure everyone can use them. I look forward to supporting this agenda as the Vice Chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.”

“Secretary Merrill and DMV are doing a fine job registering new voters, but it's by agreement and it should be in statutes,” said Representative Mike Winkler, Vice Chair of the GAE Committee. “Other agencies and entities should register voters. Participation is vital in a democracy.”

"I am proud to support the Secretary of the State's legislative agenda," said Senator James Maroney. "Our democracy works best when everyone is given a fair opportunity to participate."

“Voting rights are under attack across the U.S. and we must be proactive in our efforts,” Representative Gregg Haddad said. “I applaud the Secretary of the State’s commitments to bringing the voting process into the 21st Century and ensuring marginalized groups have a voice at the ballot box. I look forward to working through the GAE committee this spring to make these goals a reality.”

"Increasing participation in our democratic process should be a top priority for everyone in government," said Representative Hilda Santiago. "It is troubling that in some parts of this country, we still see efforts to suppress the citizen's right to vote. I applaud Secretary Merrill on her leadership and commitment to ensuring that every Connecticut citizen knows about their right to vote and the various available options for doing so."

"I am proud to support the Secretary of the State's legislative agenda," said Senator James Maroney. "Our democracy works best when everyone is given a fair opportunity to participate."

"Access to voting is not only a right for Americans, but also a critical component to a representative democracy,” said Representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey. “We need to assure we are looking at all facets and means when it comes to voting related efforts, insuring citizens do not face barriers when exercising their civic duty. I applaud the Secretary of the State's effort and plan to work cohesively with her to solve these problems."

"Throughout the history of our country, people have fought for the right to vote and many have paid the ultimate price for this fundamental component of democratic participation. It is therefore encouraging to see statewide efforts underway to educate our citizens on their right to vote," stated Representative Quentin “Q” Phipps. "Early access to voting, automatic voter registration, and expanding voting rights to parolees will only strengthen our democracy. Thank you, Secretary Merrill, for your diligence in supporting these important priorities."

"Voting is our most sacred right: it is the one that safeguards all the others,” said Representative Matt Blumenthal. “These meaningful and much-needed reforms will help ensure that all Connecticut citizens may exercise that right and have their voices heard."

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