Boosting voter turnout a worthy goal

Connecticut made the history books and its mark on the future Saturday when the state Senate passed ground-breaking legislation allowing citizens on Election Day to register to vote and cast their ballot. Connecticut law currently requires potential voters to register at least seven days prior to the election.

We applaud our lawmakers for approving "An Act Concerning Voting Rights," and for tearing down barriers in the electoral process, especially while other legislators nationwide create obstacles fostering voter exclusion of our country's most vulnerable.

Connecticut will join nine states and the District of Columbia that allow Election Day registration when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signs HB 5024. The governor, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill introduced the legislation on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

We urge voters for their own convenience and to help poll workers, to register ahead of time. But the goal should be to encourage participation, and if that means catering to the procrastinators among us, so be it.

Election Day registration, sometimes known as same-day registration, will be available to voters in the November 2013 general election. The legislation also requires that Secretary Merrill by 2014 create an online voter-registration system allowing eligible residents with a driver's license to register to vote from any computer or mobile device with an Internet connection. This may prove a more vital tool in improving participation than the more controversial same-day provision.

The people of Connecticut should be proud that its legislature passed long-overdue reform, opening up a process that should be as smooth as possible to ensure as much participation as possible for a strong and healthy democracy.

Election Day registration has increased voter participation from 7 percent to more than 10 percent in the other nine states and Washington, D.C. On Election Day 2010, more than 638,000 voters registered and cast a ballot - a number larger than the populations of the District of Columbia, Boston, Nashville or the state of Vermont, as noted by Demos, a non-partisan public policy organization.

Secretary Merrill cited the Presidential Ballot as an indicator of increased voter participation with same-day registration. Under federal law since 2000, special presidential ballots cast by Connecticut citizens who registered and voted for president on Election Day numbered about 35,000 more in each of those elections, or about a 2 to 3 percent increase.

Other changes will assure that a voter who encounters a problem at the polls, such as an incorrect address, can go to town hall, show proof of identity and address, and registrars will make the corrections immediately, allowing the individual to vote. Human errors happen. Now registrars will have the tools to correct those errors so that all votes count.

Connecticut is sending a clear message that it will not resort to measures of exclusion, which have been steadily rising elsewhere.

The young, the poor, minorities and the elderly are those most affected by restrictive voter-registration measures, such as requiring photo identification and, in some cases, birth certificates and passports.

Much of the debate leading up to passage of the bill focused on virtually non-existent voter fraud. It is a largely baseless concern. As Carole Young-Kleinfeld, a registrar and member of the League of Women Voters noted after observing the legislative debate; if a voter takes the steps to appear in person and make sworn statements under the penalty of perjury, why shouldn't the state consider them "eligible until proven otherwise," as the new law states.

The Constitution State has lived up to that title by making our democracy stronger and more inclusive.

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