Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill unveiled a bill that would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with the DMV, and opens the door to expanding the system to other state agencies in the future. With approximately 600,000 eligible but unregistered citizens, according to state officials, the measure could significantly boost Connecticut’s registration rate.
The Constitution State’s push to automatically register voters follows a growing national trend. Last year, Oregon and California became the first two states in the country to enact this groundbreaking policy, which puts the onus on the government to sign up eligible citizens.
Oregon started rolling out its new system in early January. Last week, state officials reported 4,300 new eligible voters had signed up in the first six days, more than double the previous average number of registered voters per month. Combined, the two states’ laws could add up to 7 million new citizens to the rolls.
Overall, legislators in 25 states plus the District of Columbia have similar legislation pending.
“This would be a game-changer,” said Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. “We want voter registration to be more convenient, efficient and cost-effective. Moreover, this could bring countless new voters onto the rolls.”
“Automatic, permanent voter registration has the power to transform voting in America,” said Jennifer L. Clark, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “We can tear down outdated and error-prone registration systems by automatically and securely registering every eligible citizen to vote. By passing this reform, the legislature will make Connecticut a model for other states.”
This issue has also carried into the 2016 presidential race. Both former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have embraced automatic, universal registration.
The push to modernize voting comes amid a larger battle over voting rights in America as we enter a presidential election year. In 2016, 16 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. A total of 21 have enacted stricter rules since the 2010 election. At the same time, since the 2012 election, 23 states plus the District of Columbia have passed new laws to improve voting.