Hourslong lines at same-day voter registration centers almost decided the outcome of the hotly contested Connecticut gubernatorial race last November. Several months later, Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill announced measures to improve future elections.
Merrill released two major constitutional amendments for the 2019 legislative session in a statement on Feb. 6. The first amendment would allow residents to vote within the three days before Election Day, a privilege voters in 39 states and the District of Columbia already have. Meanwhile, the second amendment would allow 16-year-olds to register to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles upon obtaining their learner’s permit or driver’s license. This measure has already been adopted by 13 other states and the District of Columbia.
“Voting is the operating system for democracy,” said Jonathan Schwartz ’21, who is the director of voter engagement and elections for Every Vote Counts — a recently founded nonpartisan Yale student organization that encourages higher voter turnout. “Your computer can do all sorts of different things … , but it doesn’t work if there’s no operating system to support that.”
According to the state constitution, amendments may be proposed by any member of the Connecticut General Assembly. By state law, any amendment that garners at least three-quarters of the vote in each chamber or is passed by a majority in two sessions is added to the upcoming election ballot. To be adopted to the Constitution, a majority of voters must support the measure.
In addition to these proposed amendments, Merrill suggested allowing Connecticut residents on parole to vote, like those on probation. In her statement, Merrill also recommended several electoral security proposals, including the creation of a cybersecurity position in the office of the secretary of state, a stipulation that every polling place must have a separate voting machine for each voting district and the expansion of a government program that protects voter data.
The cybersecurity measures are in response to September 2017 revelations that Russian hackers scanned but did not breach Connecticut’s election system during the 2016 presidential election. The attempted hacking, which was detected by the Department of Homeland Security, targeted components of the state’s online system such as the website, online voter registration system and voter lookup system.
“Connecticut residents deserve the best run elections in the United States,” Merrill said in her Feb. 6 statement. “Although Connecticut has consistently been ranked as having among the best managed elections in the country, there is room for improvement.”
Connecticut is one of only 17 states — along with the District of Columbia — that offers same-day voter registration. State law stipulates that residents must be registered by the deadline in order to be able to vote, even if they joined the same-day registration line several hours earlier.
Same-day registration threw several polling places across the state into disarray on election night last year. At New Haven’s City Hall, hundreds of Elm City residents were still in line to register — some since as early as 4 p.m. — as the 8 p.m. deadline approached. Some polling places across the state, including City Hall, conducted mass swearings-in of voters in order to allow them to cast their votes. In response, Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Stefanowski campaigned for an injunction to separate such votes from the rest until a decision could be made on whether or not such votes were legitimate.
Although decisions on Election Day were made at the local level, the state government is the only entity able to determine voter laws, according to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer.
Nevertheless, obstacles to voting are not the only factors keeping young voters away from the polls.
Every Vote Counts President Philip Hinkes ’21 noted a discrepancy between types of political engagement among University undergraduates. He said that Yale students often share political posts on social media and attend protests but frequently neglect their most important civic duty — voting.
“[Political engagement besides voting] is like treating the symptoms instead of the underlying illness,” Hinkes said. “The underlying issue is that there is inaccurate representation.”
Voter turnout in Connecticut in the 2018 election was 65.19 percent, compared to 47 percent nationwide, according to the secretary of state records.
Nathalie Bussemaker | firstname.lastname@example.org