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An estimated 6 million Americans failed to vote in 2008 because they did not know how to register or they missed their state's deadline to register.
In response to this national embarrassment came the creation of National Voter Registration Day, which this year takes place Tuesday. It is a day devoted to organizing and mobilizing people to register to vote. Last year, more than 300,000 people became new registered voters on National Voter Registration Day.
This year, some 700 organizations have become partners across the country for this single day of coordinated efforts. As with the League of Women Voters, the National Voter Registration Day organization is nonpartisan. They do not care whom you vote for, they only care that you vote.
People must remember that their votes do, indeed, count, as evidenced by elections resulting in narrow margins and even tie votes. A recount of a town finance board race in the Sept. 10 Connecticut primary confirmed that the contest was a tie, a reminder that voter participation is vital in a democratic system.
Citizens in Connecticut are fortunate to live in a state where its Secretary of the State works to ease the process of registering to vote and casting votes. Too many states are making it more difficult to vote, purportedly as a way of stopping fraud (though such fraud is virtually nonexistent.)
On this National Voter Registration Day the country's voters remain in the shadow of the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated a vital part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, allowing some states to move forward with restrictive voter identification laws. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has since intervened but a long-term solution remains out of reach until Congress acts to fashion a new and fair formula.
Despite better access to registration and to the polls in Connecticut, the number of citizens participating remains troublingly low. In Connecticut, one in three eligible citizens are not registered, while nationwide, one in four are not. Sad numbers for a country ruled by a 226-year-old Constitution creating a government of representatives elected by the people.
"Elections and voting are central to our form of government," Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the national League of Women Voters, said in her call for attention to Tuesday's activities. She cited Thomas Jefferson, who wrote with regard to the U.S. Constitution: "Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights."
To exercise that right, however, the people must register.
While Connecticut will implement its new law allowing Election Day registration this fall, to assure your right will not be infringed it makes sense to register now, rather than waiting until the last minute.
The League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut is among more than 250 Leagues from 42 states hosting registration events on Tuesday. Public libraries in New London, Waterford, Montville, Groton and Norwich will be staffed by League volunteers to answer questions and offer assistance. In addition, every public library has voter registration forms, as does every town hall.
New registrants must be U.S. citizens and 18 years old by Nov. 5, Election Day. Voters must register if they have had a recent change of address or name. Bring a driver's license or a state ID or the last four digits of your Social Security number.
As part of Tuesday's events, the Connecticut Secretary of the State's Office, in conjunction with the state Department of Education and local registrars of voters, is launching a voter registration contest among the state's high schools to see how many people they can register as a way to mark the day. The contest runs through Oct. 22, when mail-in voter registrations are due for the Nov. 5 municipal elections. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill came up with the idea in her role as co-chair of a national voter participation committee.
For more voter information visit the Secretary of the State's Office website www.sots.ct.gov, or go to www.VOTE411.org, an election resource established in 2006 by the League of Women Voters, or the National Voter Registration Day site, www.nationalvoterregistrationday.org.
Register to vote and be counted among those participating in government and democracy. Then turn your effort into action and vote on Election Day.
Rosanne Smyle is vice-president of the League of Women Voters of Southeastern Connecticut and a former Day writer and editor. She lives in Stonington.