More than five times as many voters registered through the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles this past month than in all of last year thanks to a federal investigation and new automatization, state officials announced earlier this month.
Since the beginning of August, the state’s DMV has been immediately registering any potential voters when they apply for driver’s licenses, obtain state identification cards or update their addresses, resulting in roughly 17,000 registrations this past month compared to 2,700 in all of 2015, according to the Connecticut Secretary of State’s office. Secretary Denise Merrill and the DMV instituted this new program in response to the U.S. Department of Justice’s April investigation earlier this year into a potential violation of a federal law mandating that state DMVs register voters. Previously, officials at the department were not transmitting paperwork to the Registrar of Voters in time, leading many citizens to not be registered when they thought they were. Under the new system, voters are registered by default, and computers play a larger role.
“Even while we know the collection of past data is an imperfect science, we do know this: more people will get registered to vote if we give them fast and easy opportunities to do so,” Merrill said in a Sept. 19 press release. “The new system proves that.”
Of the new voters in the past month, roughly one-third registered as Democrats. One-sixth registered as Republican and the rest as Independent.
With this new exponential growth in registrations, the DMV will soon surpass mailing, online and in-person registration as the state’s most popular if this pace remains constant.
In two years, the department will also institute a fully automated system, leading to even more efficiency in voter registration, said Patrick Gallahue, the communications director in the secretary’s office. The DMV will soon begin researching requirements for hardware and software upgrades to continue to computerize the system.
“The secretary has noticed that it is potentially time consuming for the staff of DMV to offer a paper registration, to assist the voter, answer their questions and mail the document to the registrar of the voters,” Gallahue said. “So this will do it electronically. It is also understood that this will take some time.”
Previously, Connecticut voter registration numbers through the DMV were dismal compared to those in other states, Gallahue said.
But critics remain concerned about whether the DMV is competent enough to shoulder more responsibility.
“We have numerous examples over the past year of things at the DMV not working the way they are supposed to: very basic, very fundamental things, whether it’s being late with renewals, people kind of disappearing from the system or being registered to the wrong town,” said Zachary Janowski, director of external affairs at the Yankee Institute, a conservative state policy think tank in Hartford. “If any of those things [happens, it] could be very frustrating on the election day.”
Other institutions that collect citizen information, such as colleges and various state agencies, can also step in and register voters, said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, a citizen’s lobby dedicated to state government reform.
The 2016 presidential election will be held on Nov. 8.