For Immediate Release
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Kele Williams, 212 992–8637
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736
Teresa Younger, Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, 860 247–9823 x219
Groundbreaking Lawsuit Demands Election Day Registration
New York, NY – A lawsuit filed today claims that Connecticut is violating the Constitution by requiring citizens to register at least 14 days in advance of Election Day. The suit is the first in the United States to seek Election Day Registration or “EDR,” as a cure for the disenfranchisement of eligible voters. If successful, the federal court for Connecticut would direct the State legislature to create a system for EDR.
Connecticut has a divided registration system, allowing people to vote on election day in presidential elections, but not in other federal, state or municipal general elections.
“By adopting EDR for all of the states elections, thousands of additional Connecticut citizens will participate in choosing their elected representatives,” said Kele Williams, associate counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “There is no good reason for the state to resist this step forward.”
Connecticut today possesses technology in the form of a statewide voter registration database to verify instantly a persons identity and to check for duplicate registrations. In 2003, the state Legislature passed a law allowing eligible voters to register and cast a ballot on Election Day. Governor Rowland vetoed that law, citing voter fraud concerns in the absence of a statewide database. Subsequently, Connecticut implemented the statewide registration database, now up and running in all 169 towns in the state. The advance of technology has taken away any legitimate rationale for opposing EDR.
The defendant in the suit, Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, testified on February 9, 2004 that she “strongly supports EDR” and that the most recent legislation on the subject “balances voter rights with a stronger identification process than we already have in place.”
“Deadlines may have been needed in the days of paper ballots and antiquated election procedures,” said Tom Swan, Executive Director of Connecticut Citizen Action Group. “But advances in technology should remove this outdated obstacle to voter participation.”
Evidence from other states with EDR overwhelmingly suggests that EDR would elevate voter registration and voter turnout, without increasing fraud. The six EDR states, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming, have voter participation rates over 12 percentage points above the national average. In 2000, almost two-thirds (65.6%) of eligible voters went to the polls in EDR states, while just slightly more than one-half (50.5%) voted in states without EDR. Officials in the six states allowing registration on Election Day report that there has been no increase in voter fraud.
“EDR is the future,” said Teresa Younger of the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union. “But in Connecticut, the failure to adopt EDR now is particularly inexcusable. An unregistered voter can obtain a ballot for the presidential race on Election Day but would not be allowed to vote in other races. Connecticut’s system simply makes no sense. More than that, it’s unconstitutional.”
A large number of Connecticut citizens would gain relief from this lawsuit. An expert in the lawsuit projects that as many as 130,000 more Connecticut residents would vote if the state adopts EDR. In 2003, approximately 7,400 citizens of the state registered during the 13 days before municipal elections held in May and November, but were unable to vote. In the 2002 federal and state elections, at least 3,700 Connecticut citizens were disenfranchised by the 14-day registration deadline. This unnecessarily reduced turnout is even more costly in the aftermath of the states high profile political scandal, which state leaders expect to depress voter participation.
“Most of the media attention and voter mobilization efforts happen in the last two weeks before an election,” said Jon Green, Director of the Working Families Party. “The deadline shuts voters out of the democratic process just when they have information to make a choice.”
“The 14-day registration deadline is an example of bureaucracy triumphing over basic civil rights,” said Joyce Hamilton, Executive Director of Democracy Works. “It’s time to move on, whether through action by the state Legislature and the new Governor, or through a successful lawsuit. Either way, we want to see EDR for all of Connecticuts elections.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are John and Jane Doe, representing people who will miss the deadline this year, and several organizations: ACORN, Connecticut Common Cause, Connecticut Citizen Action Group, Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, People for the American Way, and Working Families Party. The Brennan Center and the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, joined by Stanley A. Twardy, Jr. at Day, Berry & Howard LLP and Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, represent plaintiffs.
For additional information about Brennan Center efforts to promote policies that protect rights to equal electoral access and political participation, please visit the Center’s Voting and Representation page.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, founded in 1995, unites thinkers and advocates in pursuit of a vision of inclusive and effective democracy. Its mission is to develop and implement an innovative, nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms. Please visit www.brennancenter.org.