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OLR Research Report


February 1, 2010

 

2010-R-0026

VOTER REGISTRATION

By: Kristin Sullivan, Principal Analyst

You asked for information on voter registration laws and statewide registration efforts, including legislation, public hearings, and statistics by agency.

SUMMARY

Both federal and state law set voter registration requirements. Congress passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 (P.L. 103-31), also known as the “Motor Voter Act,” to make it easier for citizens to register to vote and maintain their registration. Among other things, the NVRA establishes certain public offices as voter registration agencies for federal elections. In response, the Connecticut General Assembly passed PA 94-121, establishing new state voter registration procedures, modifying existing ones, and designating voter registration agencies.

Since 1994, the legislature has considered several voter registration bills. (For the purposes of this report, “voter registration” means policies or practices intended to increase or expand registration opportunities, not its procedural or administrative aspects.) After conducting public hearings, the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee voted over 30 bills out of committee. Of these, seven became law. Generally, they (1) expand registration opportunities at high schools, public colleges and universities, and naturalization ceremonies; (2) extend the last day to register before an election; and (3) expand voter registration education requirements. In addition to the required public hearings for the bills, the GAE committee held an informational hearing after the 2004 presidential election to review the efficacy of state voter registration efforts, among other things.

We contacted the secretary of the state to inquire about the office's voter registration efforts and statistics by agency. The secretary holds registration drives before each state election. In partnership with civic organizations, businesses, schools, and media outlets, the office distributes voter registration forms and issues public service announcements.

The secretary's office provided us with voter registration reports for 2000, 2006, and 2008. Federal reporting requirements changed each year, so it is somewhat difficult to compare registrations by agency over time. But the data does show that in-person registrations decreased, while mail-in registrations increased—both by about 20%. It also lends credibility to the notion that registrations, like voter turnout, increase with presidential elections. The number of valid registrations (i.e., total registrations less duplicates) was 264,608 in 2000—a presidential election year. It dipped to 186,536 in 2006, but rose again to 326,521 in 2008 with the last presidential election.

FEDERAL LAW

Under the NVRA, states must provide individuals with the opportunity to apply to register to vote in federal elections:

1. at the time that they apply for a driver's license or renew one,

2. at offices providing public assistance and offices providing state-funded programs primarily engaged in providing services to people with disabilities, and

3. by mail using forms that each state and the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) develop.

These requirements are in addition to other methods states may offer. The law allows the U.S. Department of Justice to bring civil actions in federal court to enforce its requirements.

STATE LAW AND VOTER REGISTRATION EFFORTS

State law designates the following public places as voter registration agencies:

1. public assistance offices,

2. agencies providing state-funded programs primarily to people with disabilities,

3. public libraries, and

4. other appropriate offices that the secretary of the state designates.

Voter registration agencies must (1) distribute mail-in voter registration application forms to individuals applying for assistance or services; (2) help them complete the forms, unless they refuse assistance; (3) accept the completed forms and send them to the appropriate registrars of voters; and (4) provide applicants with a receipt (CGS 9-23n).

Legislative Action

Since 1994, the legislature has considered over 30 bills expanding state voter registration opportunities or efforts and passed eight. In 2003, then-governor Rowland vetoed the act establishing Election Day Registration (EDR), resulting in seven of the eight bills becoming law. Table 1 summarizes the relevant provisions in each.

Table 1: Public Acts

Public Act

Major Voter Registration Provision(s)

PA 95-171

Allows 17-year-olds to register to vote at any time, not just within the 180-day period immediately preceding their 18th birthday (CGS 9-12(b))

PA 96-134

Extends the time for holding voter registration sessions at high schools (CGS 9-17(c))

PA 99-112

Requires the state's public higher education institutions to distribute mail-in voter registration application forms and help applicants complete the forms, if they ask for assistance (CGS 9-23p)

PA 03-204 (VETOED)

Allows people to register to vote on the day of an election, primary, or presidential preference primary

PA 03-54

Requires the secretary of the state to designate a period of time each year between January 1 and May 31 for a Statewide Student Voter Registration Drive (CGS 9-23q)

PA 05-235

Extends the last day for registrars of voters to conduct a voter registration session from 14 to seven days before an election (CGS 9-17(a))

PA 05-188

Within available appropriations, requires the secretary of the state to (1) provide voter registration services at naturalization ceremonies for 25 or more people and (2) prepare and publish an Internet voter guide including, among other things, a printable voter registration form with information on voter registration procedures (CGS 9-4a and 9-20(b))

PA 07-194

Allows registrars of voters to contact, by telephone or mail, people whose mail-in voter registration applications are not received by the deadline for admission to vote in the next election or primary; they may notify such people of the later deadline for applying in person (CGS 9-23g(d))

Table 2 summarizes the major voter registration provisions in bills that did not become law. For proposals that were voted out of committee during more than one session (e.g., EDR), it lists only the year in which it was first introduced.

Table 2: Proposed Legislation

Bill (year)

Major Voter Registration Provision(s)

sHB 6749 (1997)

Allows a individuals, upon proving their identify, to register to vote after the registration deadline if their application is lost;

Requires colleges and universities to offer voter registration services

HB 5120 (2001)

Authorizes online voter registration

HB 6424 (2001)

Requires administrators of certain residential facilities to use their best efforts to notify probate court-appointed conservators and guardians of upcoming voter registration opportunities for residents; permits administrators to give the same notice to people with power of attorney over residents

sHB 6823 (2001)

Permits people to register to vote on a state or municipal election day and, if approved, vote

sHB 5064 (2006)

Establishes voter registration training requirements for public assistance offices and offices that provide state-funded programs primarily to people with disabilities

sHB 5903 (2009)

Expands voter registration opportunities for members of the armed forces

Informational Hearings

In addition to the public hearings required by the Joint Rules for each public act or bill listed in Tables 1 and 2, the GAE Committee held an informational hearing after the 2004 presidential election on registration efforts. Among other things, the hearing focused on problems and successes with registration. The secretary of the state testified that, statewide, over 300,000 new voters registered—a record at that time.

VOTER REGISTRATIONS BY AGENCY

At the federal level, the EAC administers the NVRA and collects and compiles state voter registration data. In Connecticut, the Office of the Secretary does the same with municipal data and provides it to the EAC biennially. We looked at voter registration reports for 2000, 2006, and 2008. (With the Help America Vote Act in 2002, the EAC became the filing repository for these reports. Prior to that, it was the Federal Election Commission. Since the EAC was in transition, reports for 2002 and 2004 do not contain registrations by agency.)

Meaningful comparisons between 2000, 2006, and 2008 are difficult because of different reporting requirements. However, the data shows that in-person registrations (i.e., those made in the office of a town clerk or registrar of voters) decreased from 54% in 2000 to 37% in 2008. Comparing the same years, mail-in registrations increased from 16% to 39%. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) registrations decreased from 6% to 3%. Minimal increases occurred in state agencies for individuals with disabilities (.0006% to .002%) and armed forces offices (.001% to .004%). Table 3 summarizes the data.

Table 3: Voter Registrations by Agency: 2000, 2006, and 2008

Year

In-Person

Mail-In

DMV

NVRA Site

Non-NVRA Site

Public Assistance Agency

State Agency for Individuals with Disabilities

Armed Forces Office

Public

Library

Other

Advocacy Group

High School

Secretary of the State

Duplicates

Total Valid Voter Registration Applications

2000

141,619a

41,407

16,032

N/A

N/A

6,071

181

459

3,288

62,713

N/A

N/A

N/A

7,162

264,608

2006

63,921

72,073

11,844

N/A

N/A

3,907

55

671

N/A

33,437

N/A

N/A

N/A

628

186,536b

2008

122,189

125,977

9,095

6,173

6,483

N/A

907

1,204

N/A

11,231

14,631

8,018

20,613

3,149

326,521

Source: Office of the Secretary of the State

N/A means not applicable as the Secretary of the State's Office did not categorize data in that way that particular year.

According to the secretary of the state's office, the 2000 report did not indicate In-Person registrations; figure is the difference between the identified agency registrations and the Total Valid Voter Registration Applications. It may be slightly elevated as we do not know how many duplicate applications occurred in-person.

We get 185,280 when we add registrations for each agency and subtract the duplicates