In theory, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s proposed legislation to set up an “automatic, permanent” voter registration system in Connecticut sounds great — if the state is ready to take it on. In a democracy, the more people registered and voting, the better. Under Ms. Merrill’s plan, eligible people who interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles would be automatically registered to vote unless they don’t want to be. With 600,000 eligible but unregistered citizens in Connecticut, there is a fertile field to plow. As Ms. Merrill explains, the information a person gives at the DMV would automatically “populate” a voter registration form. An “e-signature” program would permit an electronic signature to be collected so that the person could certify U.S. citizenship, accept or refuse to register to vote (it’s an opt-out system), and affiliate with a political party, or not. The registration applications would then be electronically transmitted to the appropriate registrars of voters.
Now, only Oregon, California and Delaware are implementing such a system. But lawmakers in about 25 other states have introduced bills that would set up registration systems similar to that envisioned by Ms. Merrill. Tens of millions of eligible but unregistered Americans could be affected nationwide.
This potentially convenient, efficient, cost-effective way to put countless new voters on the rolls could be the transformative tonic that America’s malaise-ridden democracy needs to perk up. It could increase voter turnout and turn back efforts by policy-makers in some states (fortunately, not Connecticut) to put up barriers to voting