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State, US DOJ reach agreement in lawsuit over DMV voter registration issues

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HARTFORD–The state of Connecticut, Department of Motor Vehicles and U.S. Justice Department have reached an agreement, more than three months after the federal government authorized a lawsuit against the state of Connecticut for voting irregularities.

In a letter sent to Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen in April, the Justice Department’s top civil rights attorney, Vanita Gupta, said the state did not properly enforce the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires that each “motor vehicle driver’s license application (including any renewal application) submitted to the appropriate state motor vehicle authority under state law also serve as an application for voter registration with respect to elections for federal office unless the applicant fails to sign the voter registration application.”

The agreement was made between Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra and the DOJ, and states the DMV must implement an electronic voter registration system that integrates registration into the existing licensing transaction system for DMV and AAA customers. That way, every application related to driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards will count as an application to register to vote unless the customer opts out.

The new system will begin August 8.

Secretary Merrill said, “This is a major step toward ensuring that every eligible citizen is registered to vote. It also just represents good customer service to the people of Connecticut, who will be able to register to vote or update their registrations while conducting business with the DMV. It will help them carry out two tasks in a single transaction, removing the need to go to town hall or mail in updated information.”

Besides the issue with not having license applications have the dual role of serving as voting applications, the voting act was also being violated because it states that residents should not have to file their personal information twice or provide extra information for voting registration, and that a change of address application for a driver’s license should be enough to change your address for voting as well.

An investigation by the DOJ found “widespread noncompliance” with the act, finding that applications for a Connecticut driver’s license or non-driver identification card generally doesn’t serve as an application for voter registration for federal elections. It was also discovered that change of address applications for licenses did not automatically change one’s voting location.

The DOJ said that the DMV may provide voter registration forms to those who ask for it, but that isn’t enough to comply with the act.

It was also discovered that some DMV offices wouldn’t even accept voter registration forms and transmit them to election authorities.

To determine if you are registered to vote in the appropriate town, click here. To register to vote, click here.

The DOJ says that while it has authorized a lawsuit to move forward, it will delay filing it for a “short period” to see if the state and federal government can come to an agreement to resolve the matter.

You can read the full letter from Vanita Gupta to the Hon. George Jepson here.

Here’s a statement from the office of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill:

The Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office, the Attorney General and the Department of Motor Vehicles received the attached letter from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the National Voter Registration Act, also known as the motor-voter law. Secretary Merrill welcomes the federal government’s interest in assisting our efforts to enhance Connecticut’s compliance with federal law.

Earlier this year, the Secretary worked with the General Assembly to introduce legislation to enact a streamlined motor-voter registration system at the DMV in Connecticut, which would greatly enhance voter registration performance. Simultaneously, the Secretary of the State, the Governor’s office and the Department of Motor Vehicles have been in productive discussions for many weeks on how to realize our objectives without legislation.

Secretary Merrill had a direct quote in the statement, which said, “I have been striving for more than five years to make voting more convenient for the people of Connecticut. That’s why we introduced automatic voter registration this year. I look forward to working with state and federal partners to bring this exciting voting modernization initiative to the state. This letter reminds us of the urgency to get this done.”

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