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Local lawmakers propose alternative to 'Motor Voter' agreement

The Secretary of the State came under fire last week from a local lawmaker over an agreement with the Department of Motor Vehicles to streamline the state’s motor-voter registration system, even though a similar bill was not voted on by the legislature this session.  State Senators are now proposing an alternate plan.  But Secretary of the State Denise Merrill says the functions set out in the Memorandum Of Understanding are administrative.


The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires the DMV to give people the opportunity to register to vote simultaneously when they carry out a transaction with the agency. The state is also required to send the voter registration to the appropriate official at the local level.  The federal government monitors compliance and Connecticut’s DMV has ranked near the bottom.


To comply with federal motor voter laws, Senate Republicans proposed an alternate plan to 'automatic motor-voter' registration, which they say will not add burdens on the DMV.  They are instead suggesting that the DMV and Secretary of the State work together to enforce the current motor voter registration system with new protocols.


Danbury Senator Mike McLachlan says the DMV is required to offer a voter registration form to everyone and send these forms to town registrars, but this does not always happen. He says often times the applications get filled out and sit in a bin at the DMV instead of getting mailed to the town registrar.


They are calling for the DMV to mail all completed voter registration applications to the Secretary of the State’s office directly. The Secretary’s office could then input the information into the Secretary’s online system, which will remove the burden from the DMV.  They say this puts the onus on the Secretary of the State’s Office, which is the more appropriate agency to manage compliance with national motor voter laws.


Merrill argued that the paper option would increase wait times at the DMV and cost the public more money for printing, postage and labor. 


Merrill said in a written statement that it is important that everyone understand the facts before reacting prematurely to a proposal that will modernize voter registration but is still two years away from being operational.  She also issued a FAQ sheet about motor-voter registration.


Merrill says the U.S. Department of Justice recently threatened a lawsuit to improve performance.


Wilton Senator Toni Boucher says the DMV cannot even handle its own job currently.  At a time when their computer system is unfinished and the state’s budget is already strapped, Boucher said more technical burdens is not a smart move.  Boucher says there are ways to comply with the law and encourage voter registration utilizing available resources and not spending millions of dollars and years working on a new system that is likely to cause more problems.

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