Posted on May 10, 2019 by admin
HARTFORD – As Ranking Member of the Government Administration & Elections (GAE) Committee, State Representative Mike France (R-42) was stunned that a bill making substantial changes to the voter registration process was brought before the House of Representatives on Tuesday without first being approved by the GAE Committee, which has sole cognizance over all election statutes.
House Bill (H.B.) 5844, An Act Requiring Housing Authorities to Provide Voter Registration Applications to Prospective Tenants, received a public hearing in the Housing Committee on February 7th, was voted out of committee on March 7th and then was tabled for the House Calendar by the Legislative Commissioners’ Office on March 28th; but it did not receive further legislative consideration before coming to the House for a vote.
“Not to take anything away from the fine work done by the Housing Committee, but election law is not something that is within their area of expertise,” said Rep. France. “I have great concern that this bill did not come before the GAE Committee, which has cognizance over all voter registration matters. In addition, colleagues stated that there was discussion during the committee meeting during which the Housing Committee Chair made a commitment that the bill would be referred to GAE, but unfortunately this was not done.”
While not a mandatory referral, proper procedure would indicate that no election statute should be considered for modification without the GAE Committee having the opportunity to debate the substance of the issue and then consider its approval, especially given the potential intersection with other legislation this session that has been approved by the GAE Committee.
“Given this substantial expansion of the roles of agencies to aid our citizens in registering to vote, the GAE Committee should have had a chance to get all the answers to the questions being asked today so we could have brought forward a potentially better bill,” said Rep. France. “I will also note that although the proponent of the bill has asserted that the Secretary of the State is in support of this bill, she did not provide any written or oral testimony.”
Rep. France offered a motion on the House Floor to refer this bill to the GAE Committee to ensure all the concerns that were brought up during debate could be resolved in consult with the Secretary of the State before taking a final vote.
For example, he explained even though the bill proposes to add Housing Authorities alongside the Departments of Social Services, Labor and Motor Vehicles in state statute, this does not mean they are designated as Voter Registration Agencies under CGS 9-23n. In addition, the proposed language was unclear as to what process they would be required to follow to determine resident eligibility to register to vote. Without thorough and proper guidance and training, Rep. France argued that Housing Authorities will not be properly qualified due to their lack of experience in voter registration requirements. None of this is covered in the proposed language.
In relation to the requirements regarding when the Housing Authorities should offer voter registration forms, Rep. France expressed confusion as to why it would be done at the time when prospective tenants are applying for housing, as opposed to only when they are accepted to move in. Since an address is required on the voter registration application, it did not make sense that the voter registration form would be provided at the time of application.
The motion to refer the bill to the GAE Committee proposed by Rep. France failed on a vote of 58-86.
“I am disappointed,” Rep. France said. “We are looking at a significant change in the way we register voters. What has been proposed was not well thought-out. While well-intended, there are substantial holes in the proposed change in the voter registration process and I therefore recommend that my colleagues vote against this bill.”
The House of Representatives passed H.B. 5844 on a vote of 85-58, and sent it to the Senate for consideration.