The Wilton Democratic Town Committee (DTC) issued a press release Tuesday, March 15, announcing its support for legislation that would “enhance and automate the Department of Motor Vehicle’s role in registering voters.” That support runs counter to Wilton’s three state legislators.
The idea was introduced in February when Secretary of the State Denise Merrill proposed a system that would automatically register people doing business with the Department of Motor Vehicles to vote. She submitted draft language to the legislature’s General Administration and Elections Committee requesting that a bill be raised.
HB 5514 is now before legislators. Under this bill, the DMV would record new voter applications electronically and transmit them automatically to local registrars. The DMV already mails a voter registration card with each license or identity card renewal notice and provides voter registration information at each branch office, as well as at AAA offices. But its methods are inefficient, the DTC said. HB 5514 would eliminate “incomplete or illegible forms that simply waste time and produce additional phone calls to the DMV. This is why Wilton Registrar of Voters Carole Young-Kleinfeld supports this legislation.”
Wilton’s legislators — Sen. Toni Boucher, Rep. Gail Lavielle, and Rep. Tom O’Dea — have all opposed expanding the DMV’s role in enrolling voters.
Speaking out specifically about HB 5514, O’Dea said in a press release, “The Department of Motor Vehicles was not created to process voter registrations.” O’Dea is ranking member of the legislature’s Transportation Committee.
“As we are well aware, the DMV has had numerous problems since last summer managing customer service issues, resulting in enormous lines for registrations and license renewals,” he added. “The problems facing this agency are significant and numerous, resulting in the resignation of a commissioner. As they struggle to regain their footing, this isn’t the time to saddle them with new duties, especially ones that are completely unrelated to the regulation of motor vehicles in the state.”
Boucher and Lavielle issued press releases last month on the heels of Merrill’s announcement, saying the DMV was already overburdened.
Boucher said “the problem is not registering people to vote but rather getting people to vote. … Our local registrars do a great job and we should rely on their expertise in facilitating voter registration and in maintaining the integrity and credibility of our voting system, a paramount concern.” Lavielle said that “this is the wrong time to give the DMV additional responsibilities.”
O’Dea raised another objection to HB 5514. He said the bill potentially opens up the possibility for the illegal registration of individuals who are ineligible to vote.
“Not everyone who has business with the DMV is eligible to vote,” he said. “This bill contains language that states that if anyone is admitted as an elector through the program and isn’t legally qualified to vote but votes, their vote essentially remains legal. That’s an affront to our democracy, cheapens our electoral integrity, and is unacceptable to me.”
The DTC said this is “a red herring” and that controls are already in place to address this concern in the case of driver registration.
“Local registrars still have final approval and the opportunity to detect duplicate or incomplete voter registrations,” the DTC said. “HB 5514 would simply make more effective, less confusing and less wasteful a role that the DMV has already been assigned under state and federal law. What’s more, the bill would not take effect until 2017, giving DMV offices ample time to prepare.
“Although Rep. O’Dea states that he supports making voter registration accessible, his opposition to a proposal that would actually make it easier for all citizens to participate in the electoral process is disappointing. His position runs counter to everything the Wilton Democratic Town Committee — and this country — stands for.”