The right to vote is meant to be the great equalizer, but that equality only has meaning if we have equal access to the ballot box. Unfortunately, narrow windows for participation, outdated voting practices and New Jersey’s failure to take advantage of technology create unnecessary hurdles for far too many New Jerseyans and limit full participation in our democracy.
New Jersey ranks 39 th in the nation in both percentage of eligible voters registered and percentage of registered voters who actually vote. This June just 5% of registered voters turned out for New Jersey’s primary elections. In the 2014 general election our state ranked among the 10 lowest performing states for voter participation. Even worse, a staggering 1.6 million eligible New Jerseyans are not even registered to vote.
New Jersey Citizen Action supports measures to modernize New Jerseys’ voting laws, including legislation passed this summer. The New Jersey Democracy Act, S50/A4613, would create a system of automatic voter registration modeled after Oregon’s program. Qualified residents who apply for or renew licenses at their local DMV would be automatically registered unless they chose to opt-out.
The Democracy Act would further modernize voter registration by allowing people to register to vote and correct their voting information online. This common sense measure offers convenience for voters, helps clean up our state’s voter rolls, and saves election officials time and money while protecting the franchise of all eligible New Jersey voters.
The Democracy Act also includes a number of measures that will make voting more convenient for NJ’s diverse working families. By expanding early voting, we can make sure that going to work, caring for a sick child, or getting stuck in a traffic jam is no barrier to our franchise. By expanding access for military and overseas voters, we can make sure that the people protecting our democracy have a full say in it. And by printing ballots in languages that reflect our communities, we can make voting accessible to everyone in our diverse state.
Other states across this nation, recognizing poor participation at the ballot box undermines trust in government, have modernized voting procedures and seen increased participation as a result.