Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

Ensuring Every Citizen Has the Opportunity to Vote: Adopting Election Day Registration in Connecticut

Academic journal article The New England Journal of Political Science

Ensuring Every Citizen Has the Opportunity to Vote: Adopting Election Day Registration in Connecticut

Article excerpt

Abstract

On June 4, 2012, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law legislation that made Connecticut the ninth state to adopt Election Day registration (EDR). This article tells the story behind passage of House Bill 5024, An Act Concerning Voting Rights. The adoption of a law permitting citizens to register and vote on Election Day was due to a combination of broad and idiosyncratic factors. One reason EDR was adopted is because Connecticut has a political culture that tends to value and expect political participation by its residents. Second, single-party control of the governor's office, secretary of the state's office, and sizable majorities in both the House and the Senate made passage of the bill possible. Third, after the years of resistance, many local registrars finally supported the measure because some of their key concerns were addressed in the bill the governor signed. Finally, the governor and legislative leaders had the backing of a group of skilled, battle-tested, election-reform advocates working both inside and outside the General Assembly to build support for an Election Day registration law.

As I sit and finish this article, today marks the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 6, 1965. The passage of the VRA is not only one of the most important legislative achievements of the 20th century, but it is also a seminal moment in American history. Using language similar to that found in the 15th Amendment (which gave black males the right to vote in 1870), the Voting Rights Act prohibits states from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color" (42 U.S.C. § 1971). The VRA is particularly significant because it enhanced the opportunity to participate in politics by outlawing discriminatory practices that were being used to disenfranchise millions of potential black voters.

Today, across the country, a number of states have introduced legislation that will restrict rather than promote greater access to the polls. According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York School of Law, during the 2011 and 2012 state legislative sessions, at least thirty-four states introduced legislation that would require voters to present a photo ID to cast their ballot. Some suggest that the photo ID requirement is a modern day poll tax which places a disproportionate and unacceptable burden on young, poor, and nonwhite citizens, who are less likely to have a driver's license or an official government identification card. Proof of citizenship legislation was introduced in at least seventeen states that would require people registering to vote present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Bills were introduced in at least sixteen states to end Election Day and same-day voter registration, hamper voter registration drives, and reduce other registration opportunities. At least nine states attempted to reduce the period for early voting, and four attempted to reduce the opportunity to cast an absentee ballot. Finally, three states made it more difficult for people convicted of a felony to vote ("2012 Summary" 2012).

Among the states, Connecticut stands out for having recently successfully and significantly altered its voting eligibility law to promote rather than restrict participation in the political system. On June 4, 2012, Governor Dannel P. Malloy signed into law House Bill 5024, An Act Concerning Voting Rights, legislation that made Connecticut the ninth state to adopt Election Day registration (EDR). In a press statement released after signing the new law, Governor Malloy declared:

We are proud of the work we've done in Connecticut to ensure citizens have every opportunity to choose their elected leaders, even as other states are moving to restrict voting rights. …

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