Attorney General: Honorable Susan Bysiewicz, Secretary of the State, Formal Opinion 2007-016, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

September 5, 2007

The Honorable Susan Bysiewicz

Secretary of the State

30 Trinity Street

Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Madam Secretary:

You have asked this Office for an opinion concerning the use of the City of New Haven’s “Elm City Resident Cards" during the electoral process. Specifically, you have asked us to opine whether your Office has the legal authority to issue the following directives with respect to the use of such cards by individuals seeking to vote or register to vote in Connecticut: (1) Elm City Resident Cards may not be used to prove one’s eligibility to register to vote in Connecticut; (2) Elm City Resident Cards may not be used to prove United States Citizenship during any portion of the registration process; (3) Elm City Resident Cards may be used to prove one’s identity during the in-person or mail-in voter registration processes; and (4) Elm City Resident Cards may be used for identification purposes at the polls pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-261.  For the reasons set forth below, I conclude that your interpretations are reasonable and consistent with state law and that you have the statutory authority to issue rulings, instructions and opinions consistent with each of these conclusions.

 

I.         BACKGROUND

          On July 24, 2007, the City of New Haven began offering “a multi-purpose municipal identification card to all New Haven residents, regardless of age or immigration status.”  See New Haven’s Elm City Resident Cards – Fact Sheet (“Fact Sheet”).  According to literature posted on the City of New Haven’s website, the new Elm City Resident Cards are intended to enable city residents who would otherwise lack “acceptable forms of identification” to participate in local commerce or other forms of civic engagement.  See id.  The City of New Haven has determined that “[t]he populations that will likely benefit the most from this identification are young children, elderly citizens, students and immigrants (both documented and undocumented).”  Id.

 

In addition to serving as an identification card, the Elm City Resident Cards have multiple uses, including (1) serving as a city library card; (2) providing access to municipal services and sites, including free public beach access, discounted access to the municipal golf course and use of the city dump; and (3) a Parcxmart debit card component, which allows the user to load up to $150.00 to the card to be used to pay for city parking meters and for goods and services at approximately 50 participating stores.  Id.  

 

In order to obtain an Elm City Resident Card, an applicant must apply in- person at City Hall, present acceptable identification, provide proof of New Haven residency, and pay a fee ($10.00 for adults; $5.00 for children age 12 and under).  To prove identity, an applicant must present any one of the following: (1) a passport; (2) a U.S. driver’s license; (3) a birth certificate; or (4) a consular ID card.  See City of New Haven’s Criteria for Acceptable Documents for Proof of Identity.  Alternatively, an applicant may prove his or her identity by presenting any two of the following: (1) a “national identification card” (must have photo, name, address, date of birth and expiration date); (2) a foreign driver’s license (current – not expired); (3) a voter registration card; (4) a military identification (U.S. or foreign); (5) a Visa (current); or (6) an ITIN card (must be accompanied by a photograph ID).  Id.  At least one of the documents used to prove identity must include a photograph of the applicant.  Id. 

 

To prove residency, an applicant must present any one of the following  documents: (1) a rental or real estate purchase agreement; (2) two or more utility bills with name and address; (3) an insurance bill, bank statement or check book; (4) an employment pay stub; (5) a local property tax statement; (6) proof of a minor enrolled in public or private school; (7) a voter registration card; (8) a library card; or (9) original documents from a health or social services organization attesting to the fact that the applicant is a New Haven resident.  Id.   

 

II.        DISCUSSION

 

Under Section 9-3 of the General Statutes, the Secretary of the State, as Commissioner of Elections, has the authority to issue “declaratory rulings, instructions and opinions” relating to the “interpretation and effectuation of election law,” including the laws governing voter registration and identification at the polls.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-3.  Section 9-3 also provides that the Secretary’s rulings and opinions regarding election laws are presumed correct.  Id.  Thus, as Commissioner of Elections, you have the general authority to issue rulings, instructions and opinions to local elections officials concerning the use of Elm City Resident Cards during the registration and voting processes.     

 

The first issue you have asked us to address relates to your conclusion that individuals may not use Elm City Resident Cards to prove that they are eligible to vote.  It is my view that this conclusion is reasonable and consistent with state law.     

 

In order to register to vote in Connecticut, one must meet the eligibility requirements for admission as an elector.  Section 9-12(a) of the General Statutes provides that “[e]ach citizen of the United States who has attained the age of eighteen years, and who is a bona fide resident of the town to which the citizen applies for admission as an elector shall, on approval by the registrars of voters or town clerk of the town of residence of such citizen, as prescribed by law, be an elector, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-12(a) (emphasis added).  Section 9-12(b) of the General Statutes, in turn, permits a citizen to apply for admission as an elector prior to his or her eighteenth birthday, provided such citizen will have attained the age of eighteen years on or before the day of a regular election.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-12(b).

 

Thus, in order to register to vote in Connecticut, one must: (1) be a U.S. citizen; (2) be at least 18 years of age on or before the date of the next regular election; and (3) be a resident of the city or town in which that person applies for registration.  An individual seeking to prove his or her eligibility to vote in Connecticut1 could not do so by presenting an admitting official with an Elm City Resident Card.  First, one need not be a United States citizen to obtain an Elm City Resident Card.  Second, people of any age, including those under the age of eighteen, may obtain an Elm City Resident Card.  For these reasons, it would be reasonable and not inconsistent with state law for you to conclude that individuals may not use an Elm City Resident Cards to establish their eligibility to register to vote.

 

The second issue you have asked this Office to address concerns your conclusion that Elm City Resident Cards may not be used to prove United States Citizenship during any portion of the registration process.  Although Connecticut law does not specifically require all applicants to provide an admitting official with proof of United States citizenship, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20a describes several specific forms of documentation that certain United States citizens born outside the United States may present to an admitting official as “conclusive proof” of his or her United States citizenship.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20a.  This provision appears to have been adopted in order to clarify what forms of documentation are acceptable for walk-in voter registration applicants who are unable to produce the documentation required under Section 9-20 of the General Statutes. 

 

Elm City Resident Cards are not included among the forms of documentation listed in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20a to establish citizenship.  As set forth above, one need not be a United States citizen to obtain such a card.  Indeed, one of the primary goals of the Elm City Resident Cards is to provide New Haven residents, expressly including non-citizens, with a form of official identification and access to city services.  It would therefore be reasonable for you to conclude that Elm City Resident Cards are not among the documents that may be used to conclusively prove United States citizenship under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20a.  Moreover, to the extent applicants are required to prove United States citizenship during any other portion of the registration process, it would be reasonable and consistent with state law for you to conclude that applicants may not prove United States citizenship by presenting an admitting official with an Elm City Resident Card.        

  

          The third issue you have raised concerns whether Elm City Resident Cards may be used solely to prove one’s identity during the in-person or mail-in voter registration process.  You have concluded that eligible voter registration applicants may use such cards solely to prove their identity.  For the following reasons, this conclusion is not inconsistent with state law. 

 

In Connecticut, individuals may register to vote by mailing an application to an admitting official or appearing in person before an admitting official.  Individuals applying by mail to register to vote for the first time may submit certain identifying documentation with their application.  Under Section 9-23r(a) of the General Statutes:

 

any person who is applying, by mail, to register to vote for the first time in this state may submit as part of such voter registration application: (1) a copy of a current and valid photo identification, (2) a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or government document that shows the name and address of the voter, (3) a valid Connecticut motor vehicle operator’s license number, or (4) the last four digits of the individual’s Social Security number. 

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-23r(a).2        

 

In the event a first-time mail applicant fails to submit any of the  documentation described in Section 9-23r, such individual is required to present either: (1) a copy of a current and valid photo identification or (2) a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or government document that shows the name and address of the voter when the individual enters the polling place in an election for federal office.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-23r(d).  If an individual fails to present the identification described in Section 9-23r(d), “such individual may cast a provisional ballot prescribed under sections 9-232i to 9-232o, inclusive.”  Id.   

 

Pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20, a person also may apply for admission as an elector in-person.  Any person seeking to register in-person must, upon a form prescribed by the Secretary of the State and signed by the applicant, state under penalties of perjury, his name, bona fide residence by street and number, date of birth, whether he is a United States citizen, whether his privileges as an elector are forfeited by reason of conviction of crime, and whether he has previously been admitted as an elector in any town in this or any other state.  The application for admission as an elector shall include a statement that (1) specifies each eligibility requirement, (2) contains an attestation that the applicant meets each such requirement and (3) requires the signature of the applicant under penalty of perjury.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20(c).  When  seeking to register in-person, an applicant must also present a birth certificate, driver’s license, or social security card for inspection.  If an applicant fails to present any of these forms, an admitting official “shall require the applicant to prove his identity, place of birth, age and bona fide residence by the testimony under oath of at least one elector or by the presentation of proof satisfactory to such admitting official.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20(b).  Unlike the statute governing mail-in applications, however, the statute does not specify the means by which a walk-in applicant may prove his or her identity.

 

You have concluded, based on the types of acceptable identification  described in Section 9-23r, that Elm City Resident Cards may be used solely to  prove one’s identity during the in-person and mail-in voter registration processes.  For the reasons that follow, I conclude that this interpretation is reasonable and consistent with state law.    

Section 9-23r(a) of the General Statutes describes several forms of documentation that applicants may submit with their mail-in application in order to demonstrate that they are the person filling out the application.  These documents are not intended to prove eligibility to vote.  Rather, they are strictly intended to serve as a means of proving one’s identity.

 

The General Assembly enacted the current version of Section 9-23r(a) in a June 2003 special session.  See P.A. 03-06, § 90.  That legislation was passed in order to ensure that Connecticut’s voting laws complied with the “Help America Vote Act” (hereinafter “HAVA”), which Congress passed in 2002.  See 42 U.S.C. §§ 15301, et seq. 

 

HAVA was passed by Congress largely in response to the confusion and uncertainties experienced during the 2000 presidential election.  Among other things, HAVA requires all states to implement certain minimum identification requirements for all first-time mail-in voter registration applicants.3  Connecticut’s identification requirements for first-time mail-in applicants mirror HAVA’s minimum requirements.  Unlike some states, which have enacted statutes requiring first-time mail-in registrants to submit various forms of photo identification with their application and/or at the polling place,  Connecticut chose to adopt HAVA’s minimum identification requirements.  See 42 U.S.C. § 15483(b).

 

Section 9-23r(a) of the General Statutes, which codifies HAVA’s minimum identification requirements, provides for a relatively broad list of documents that first-time applicants may submit as proof of their identity when registering by mail.  As set forth above, such documentation includes any “current and valid photo identification,” but does not limit the forms of permissible identification to documents that include a photograph or prove an applicant’s eligibility to vote.  Thus, in addition to permitting a “current and valid photo identification” (which neither the statute nor HAVA defines), a first time mail-in applicant is permitted to submit with his or her application “a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or government document that shows the name and address of the voter.”  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-23r(a).

 

You have concluded that Elm City Resident Cards may be submitted to prove one’s identity under Section 9-23r(a).  Based on our review of the statutory framework and legislative history of Section 9-23r, we believe your conclusion is reasonable and consistent with state law.  Neither Section 9-23r(a) nor HAVA defines the terms “current and valid photo identification” or a “government document that shows the name and address of the voter.”  Moreover, nothing in the legislative history of Section 9-23r sheds light on what specific forms of documentation might fall within these classifications.  Thus, it does not appear that anything in the current statutory framework or its legislative history prevents you from concluding that unexpired Elm City Resident Cards may be used as identification during the mail-in voter registration process.       

 

In issuing any directives consistent with this conclusion, however, it is important to stress that Elm City Resident Cards, like many of the other specific forms of documentation described in Section 9-23r(a), may not be used to prove one’s eligibility as a voter.  Thus, just as “a copy of a current utility bill” or “bank statement,” both of which are permissible forms of identification under Section 9-23r(a) and the minimum requirements of HAVA, may not be used to prove eligibility because they are not evidence of citizenship status or age, you should make clear that it is your view that Elm City Resident Cards may be used solely to prove one’s identity and not eligibility.4  

 

For similar reasons, I also conclude that your conclusion that Elm City Resident Cards may be used solely to prove one’s identity during the walk-in registration process under Section 9-20(b) is consistent with state law.  Thus, if a walk-in applicant fails to present a birth certificate, driver’s license, or social security card for inspection and, pursuant to Section 9-20(b), the admitting official requires “the applicant to prove his identity, place of birth, age and bona fide residence” by “the presentation of proof satisfactory to such admitting official,” see id., the walk-in applicant may prove his or her identity, but not eligibility, by presenting an Elm City Resident Card to the admitting official.

 

The last question you have posed concerns your conclusion that Elm City Resident Cards may be used for identification purposes at the polls pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-261.  For essentially the same reasons that an applicant may prove his or identity during the mail-in registration process by presenting an Elm City Resident Card, it is reasonable and consistent with state law for you to conclude that Elm City Resident Cards may be used for identification purposes at the polls pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-261.

Section 9-261(a) of the General Statutes provides that:

 

[e]ach elector who registered to vote by mail for the first time on or after January 31, 2003, and has a ‘mark’ next to the elector’s name on the official registry list, as required by section 9-23r, shall present to the checkers, before the elector votes, either a current and valid photo identification that shows the elector’s name and address or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the name and address of the elector.  

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-261(a).  This provision thus pertains to persons seeking to vote who registered by mail for the first time and failed to include a driver’s license number, the last four digits of their social security number, or the other forms of acceptable documentation described in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-23r at the time they submitted their mail-in application.  In order to cast a regular ballot on election day, Section 9-261(a) requires such voters to present polling officials with “either a current and valid photo identification that shows the elector’s name and address or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government document that shows the name and address of the elector.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-261(a). 

 

The language of Section 9-261(a) is identical to the language of Section 9-23r(a).  Thus, for the same reasons local officials may accept Elm City Resident Cards as identification during the mail-in registration process, you may reasonably conclude that these cards also may be used as identification at the polls under Section 9-261(a).

 

I trust this opinion adequately addresses your questions.  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I may be of further assistance on this or any other matters.         

                        

Very truly yours,

  

 

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

ATTORNEY GENERAL

 

 

Robert W. Clark

Assistant Attorney General



1 It is important to note that Connecticut law does not presently require all persons seeking to register to vote to present an admitting official with documentation proving that they satisfy all three criteria for eligibility.  Rather, only certain walk-in applicants may be required to provide admitting officials with documentation proving certain aspects of eligibility.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-20.   

2 Members of the armed forces and persons entitled to use the federal post card application for absentee ballots under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-153a are not required to provide identification when registering by mail.  See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-23r(a).

3 HAVA specifically indicates that its provisions establish minimum requirements, explicitly authorizing states to institute consistent “administrative requirements that are more strict” than the federal requirements.  See 42 U.S.C. § 15484.

4 In light of the forms of documentation applicants for Elm City Resident Cards are required to submit to prove identity and residency, including at least one form of photo identification, see supra, an Elm City Resident Card is arguably a more stringent means of proving one’s identity than some of the other acceptable forms under Section 9-23r(a) and HAVA, such as a current utility bill. 


Back to the 2007 Opinions Page
Back to the Opinions Page



Content Last Modified on 9/5/2007 3:04:23 PM