New Jersey Legislators Announce Proposal To Reform Voting Laws

| by Ethan Brown

Members of New Jersey’s state Assembly and Senate are looking to reform the Garden State’s voting practices, specifically  regarding voting rights. State legislators are reportedly looking to update “outdated” voting laws that are from a “rural, farm-dwelling society.”

The voter reforms would allow early voting, online voting registration, and the right of citizens to register to vote on the day of any given election, Politicker NJ reported. The so-called “Democracy Act” was introduced by its authors and co-sponsors at a press conference on June 15.

State Senate president Steve Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, State Assembly Speaker Vinner Prieto and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, all Democrats, were the first to speak about the new legislation on Monday.

“The Democracy Act will modernize and improve state election laws to make voting easier and more accessible for the people of New Jersey," Sweeney said. "Elections are the foundation of democracy and anything we can do to increase voter participation will make government more effective and more responsive to the needs of everyone. Elections have consequences so we want every eligible voter to have a fair opportunity to participate in the electoral process."

“Superstorm Sandy demonstrated how ill-prepared our election system is for emergencies and how ill-equipped we are for any modern voting," Prieto added. "We must do better if we’re going to truly protect voting rights for New Jerseyans from every community across our state."

The legislation also calls for universal voter registration, where each resident who receives a driver’s license or state identification card would automatically be registered to vote, unless they opt out. The bill would also remove taxpayers from having to pay for costly political primaries and elections in off election years, specifically for special elections that are unplanned.

“Our current voting laws originated from a rural, farm-dwelling society," Greenwald said. "Times have changed, but New Jersey remains stuck in a voting quagmire, with outdated laws and procedures that deter people from voting."

It is unsure how Republican Gov. Chris Christie will vote on the measure, although Democrats are preparing for a potential veto. The bill is expected to land on Christie's desk by the end of the month.

Here is a list of some of the bill's other proposals, courtesy of Politcker NJ:

  • Expand “vote-by mail” – Voters would be able to choose to vote by mail.. Voters who have applied for a ballot but not yet returned it would be able to vote at the polls without excuse on Election Day. And all vote-by-mail would be done at no cost to the individual voter.
  • Prohibit harassment at the polls – An existing consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice prohibiting harassment of voters at the polls ends in 2017. The decree would be put into law.
  • Ensure access for people with disabilities – All places for voting, early voting, in-person registration, mail-in registration and online registration would be accessible to those with disabilities.
  • Pre-registration of Young Voters – Allow a person who is 17 years of age to register to vote, and may vote at the next election occurring on or after the person’s 18th birthday.
  • Ensure access for non-English speakers – In a state with as much diversity as New Jersey, as many eligible New Jerseyans as possible would be able to vote and register to vote in a language they understand.
  • Strengthen voter fraud laws – It would change New Jersey law to allow for voter fraud challenges when reasonable evidence exists that illegal votes have been received, or legal votes rejected at the polls sufficient to change the result.

Sources: WNYC, Politicker NJ

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