Voter ID laws have been all the rage around the country, with conservative lawmakers pushing to make it harder to vote, often by requiring some form of government-issued photo identification. The goal, at least according to rhetoric, is to keep the process safe from fraud—despite there being no real evidence of in-person voter fraud, the only kind such laws would actually prevent. In the meantime, states struggle with low-turnout rates and sometimes low registration rates. In Texas, which recently passed one of the more stringent ID requirements, residents vote at among the lowest rates in the country.
All of which makes Connecticut's current voting debate somewhat shocking by comparison. The secretary of state has taken the lead in proposing measures to increase voter turnout by—get this—making it easier to vote. Two proposals make it easier to register by offering same-day registration for those who show up on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system so people can do it from home. Another measure would increasing penalties for voter intimidation. According to officials, the efforts are much-needed to increase turnout.
"It's long past time that we move our elections into the 21st century in Connecticut,'' Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said during a press briefing Friday prior to a legislative hearing on the proposals. "We are not on the cutting edge and our system is old, costly and inconvenient."As a result, Merrill said, one out of three state residents who are eligible to vote aren't even registered.
Voting, most of us can all agree, is a good thing to do. But legislation around voting has become largely about partisan advantage—voter ID laws are seen to give Republicans an advantage because the impact would be particularly felt in poor and minority communities, both largely Democratic constituencies. Not shockingly, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the American Legislative Exchange Council, a meeting place for corporate interests and conservative lawmakers, has helped bolster the efforts to pass voter ID laws around the country—presumably because ALEC hopes to see more conservatives get into office. Meanwhile Democrats argue voter ID laws decrease access and function like a poll tax, as a way of making it harder for certain communities to vote.
The Courant article shows the same cynicism comes at efforts to increase voting—since those efforts will likely benefit Democrats. One Republican asks why there's a need for these laws and worries about devaluing the ballot box if access is too easy. Politicians are rarely angels, and it's likely both sides take an interest at least in part because they hope for political gain.
But that's largely beside the point. American citizens, regardless of political affiliation, have the right to vote. Increasing access to that right is important; in the secular religion of democracy, voting is practically a holy act. While the efforts to increase turnout in Connecticut may benefit Democrats, that doesn't change that it benefits the democratic process as well.