Tuesday, February 25, 2020
In Georgia, officials are purging 100,000 voters from the voter rolls. In Florida, the modern equivalent of a poll tax is being thrust upon formerly incarcerated residents. And in Texas, in a willful policy effort to drive down Election Day turnout, 750 polling places have been shuttered since 2012.
Across the nation, voting rights are indeed under attack. But here at home, this legislative session, Connecticut has the opportunity to send a message to America by expanding participation in democracy - and for those who need it most.
We can do it by passing automatic voter registration - known as AVR. It's a critical reform as the 2020 election approaches, and it needs to be one of the first issues the Legislature takes up this session. Here's why.
Last year on the final day of legislative business, just as the Senate was set to join the House in passing AVR, political maneuvering hampered common-sense policymaking.
Even though AVR has passed with bipartisan support in 19 different states (including Massachusetts and New Jersey), the bill was ultimately shelved.
But now that we're in 2020, the stakes have never been higher and the urgency to pass AVR couldn't be more real.
First, it’s critical because AVR helps simplify and streamline our elections. Elections in the past have been plagued by long lines. In 2018, for instance, residents waited up to seven hours to vote in some cases. This year, with President Trump on the ballot, we could see record turnout — and exceptionally long lines as result.
But AVR represents a common-sense solution, because rather than registering eligible residents through an inefficient and costly paper-based system, AVR registers voters automatically when they interact with state agencies, like the DMV.
In cases where they’re already providing data about themselves that demonstrates their eligibility to vote — name, address, citizenship status and more — residents can accomplish their business with that agency as well as register to vote. It’s a step towards government efficiency.
That also means more people will be registered in advance of Election Day, with fewer using paper methods to register same day at polling sites. Staff is able to focus more on running elections smoothly—and less on cumbersome paperwork.
All of it culminates in shorter lines at the polls, which could be critical, particularly in 2020.
Equally important, at a time when foreign powers are actively seeking to meddle in campaigns, election integrity has never been more critical. Since AVR captures voters’ most updated information, that means voter data is updated nearly in real time, minimizing human error, eliminating outdated information or duplicative registrations, and ensuring that the rolls are reliable and accurate.
If we’re going to fight back against election meddling, that has to start with ensuring that our voters rolls are clean and up to date. AVR delivers just that.
What’s more, AVR saves taxpayer dollars in the process. One study showed that moving from a paper to electronic system has saved cities and states across the country over $3.50 per registration in labor costs. By eliminating costly paper-based methods and moving towards a modern, electronic system, AVR can deliver meaningful costs savings that can be put towards our schools, our roads and more.
But perhaps most importantly, it expands democratic rights, registering voters from communities of color, younger residents and countless others who would otherwise be less likely to register to vote. One study by the Center for American Progress showed that AVR would register hundreds of thousands of new voters in Connecticut in the first year alone.
Policymakers and agency staff will need time to implement AVR in advance of November. Consequently, the Legislature must make it one of the first priorities the legislature passes this session. The clock is indeed ticking to make these benefits come to fruition by November.
As other states attempt to undercut voting rights, it’s not just the efficiency of our elections or our government that are at stake. So too are our values as a state.
And as voting rights continue to be rolled back nationwide, we need to pass AVR now to send a message loud and clear — Connecticut stands up for democratic rights.
Cheri Quickmire is executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut and Bilal Dabir Sekou an associate professor of political science at the University of Hartford and member of Common Cause.
Posted by Bilal Dabir Sekou, Ph.D. at 12:33 AM