Push to Remove ‘Undocumented’ Identifiers on Connecticut Driver’s Licenses Raises Voter Fraud Concerns


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Gov. Ned Lamont wants to eliminate the distinguishing marks on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, a change that would make it difficult to identify ineligible voters according to local election officials.

In 2013, the state passed a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drive-only licenses. Supporters hailed the legislation as a public safety measure, helping ensure that all Connecticut drivers are tested and insured.

To safeguard against voter fraud, the legislation required the Department of Motor Vehicles to stamp the letters “DO” on the front of the license and include language on the back explaining that it could not be used for voting purposes.  

Now, nearly a decade after the law went into effect, Lamont wants to remove those visual identifiers so all driver’s licenses in Connecticut, whether issued to a legal resident or undocumented immigrant, look exactly the same.  

According to Julia Bergman, a spokeswoman for Lamont, the proposed license change is a response to action taken last year by Florida legislators that refuses to recognize drive-only licenses from Connecticut and other states. 

“Connecticut prides itself on being a welcoming state. As some states work to target undocumented people, the visual differences in the licenses Connecticut provides to undocumented people has unintentionally made Connecticut residents with varying immigration statuses vulnerable in hostile states,” Bergman said in a statement to CT Examiner.  

Connecticut is one of 23 states that offers same-day voter registration, and Darien’s Republican Registrar of Voters Cara Gately said the change could put poll workers in legal jeopardy. She said removing the differentiating language would eliminate the only way election officials have of determining an individual’s eligibility to be registered to vote.

“If such language is removed, election officials and poll workers very likely will unknowingly and erroneously accept the application for registration and allow ineligible persons to vote at poll sites in contradiction of state and federal law,” she said.

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.

At a Transportation Committee hearing this week in Hartford, DMV Commissioner Tony Guerrara testified that, of the 19 states that offer drive-only licenses, Connecticut and Delaware are the only jurisdictions that maintain a visual difference from other driving credentials. He said those identifiers enable other states to target the 58,000 holders of Connecticut drive-only licenses.

State Rep. Tracy Marra, R-Darien, said she opposes removing the “drive only” language, and questioned the need for a redesign that exposes state elections to potential fraud while offering little benefit to state residents. 

“Why?” she asked. “Because undocumented Connecticut residents may not be able to drive in other states?”

Matt McDermott from CONECT, a New Haven-based coalition of churches, synagogues and mosques that campaigned for the 2013 legislation, said the group is not involved in the current effort but that it has always been a goal to make the drive-only licenses indistinguishable from regular licenses. 

“It would be an additional way in which people are less exposed and less at risk,” he said.

According to McDermott, concerns that noncitizens would use the licenses to illegally vote are unrealistic.  

“If you’re an undocumented person in this country, anywhere, the last thing you logically want to do is put yourself in legal criminal jeopardy,” he said. “Getting a felony charge is almost always a ticket to a very quick deportation.”

But State Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, said removing the drive-only language violates a compromise that was reached in negotiations over the initial legislation in 2013. 

“We agreed to it but we wanted the front of it to have a very clear mark that it’s a drive-only license,” O’Dea said.  

O’Dea said the governor’s proposed changes will make it easier for people to inadvertently or intentionally vote improperly.  

“Currently, registrars are taught and volunteers are told, if they present the license for ID, make sure it doesn’t have ‘DO’ on it and look at the back where it says ‘not valid for voting purposes.’  And now you want to get rid of that?” he said.

Republicans are pushing back on the proposal and are hopeful that supporters of the change will rethink its implications on state elections.  

“I think this is a bad idea, particularly coming on the heels of what went on in Bridgeport,” O’Dea said.

Bridgeport residents cast their ballots this week in the fourth consecutive election for the city’s mayor after a state judge threw out the results of the first vote due to allegations of absentee ballot stuffing.    

The license redesign is expected to cost the state $250,000 to implement.  

In response to the attention that Florida’s laws are receiving in Connecticut, Julia Friedland, spokesperson for Gov. Ron DeSantis, said, “Florida is proud to lead on enforcing the laws of the land where the federal government has failed to do so.”