The Daily Targum

Groups Fight For Later NJ Voter Registration

The Daily Targum — Tuesday, April 19, 2011

By Jeff Prentky
Staff Writer

After announcing a lawsuit filed in the Middlesex County Superior Court, several N.J. organizations held a press conference Tuesday at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus demanding the Middlesex County Board of Elections allow Election Day voter registration (EDR).

In New Jersey, voters must register at least 21 days before Election Day, which affects many residents who are registered in a different New Jersey county or relocate to New Jersey from another state, said Frank Askin, director of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic.

The Rutgers School of Law-Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA), the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, New Jersey Citizen Action and six disenfranchised N.J. residents filed the suit to strengthen Americans' right to vote.

"We think this is a very important day for New Jersey, particularly for college students in New Jersey, including Rutgers students," he said. "We hope this will have a tremendous impact on increasing voter participation in New Jersey."

EDR enables voters to register and vote on Election Day, he said. Nine states and Washington, D.C. allow EDR and have significantly higher voter participation than any other states, including New Jersey.

"Those jurisdictions have all adopted EDR by legislation," Askin said. "If our lawsuit is successful, New Jersey would be the first state to institute EDR by judicial action, and we hope we become a model for other states to follow."

During the 2008 presidential election, many students who registered with third-party volunteers went to the polls on Election Day to find their names were not on the registration rolls, possibly because they could not be processed in time or they were lost, Askin said.

Those people are allowed to vote by provisional ballot, but those ballots will be discarded if the voter's name is not on the rolls, he said.

New Jersey has a computerized Statewide Voter Registration System maintained by the Division of Elections that provides for almost instantaneous vetting of new registrations to guarantee the registrant is eligible and has not voted elsewhere, Askin said.

"There is thus no longer a strong justification for this obviously burdensome, indeed devastating requirement for advance registration," Askin said.

For the 2008 general election, more than 16,000 voters statewide were disenfranchised because EDR is not a policy in this state, said Yael Bromberg, Rutgers School of Law-Newark graduate student.

Statistics of recent general and primary elections show that about 66 percent of provisional ballots are thrown out, he said.

"This is really something that affects people, especially in close elections," Bromberg said. "These 66 percent of provisional ballots are being tossed by good faith voters who believe that their vote is being counted and are not being notified otherwise."

Matt Cordeiro, vice president of RUSA, said the current registration process in New Jersey is confusing and often disenfranchises students from voting.

"Voting is a bedrock of this country and what it stands for, and if we really want to increase youth participation in the electoral process we should get rid of these barriers to voting," said Cordeiro, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

One of the plaintiffs, Gabriela Grzybowski, a School of Arts and Science junior, was turned away at the polls in 2009 after her name was not on the registration rolls, she said.

Grzybowski missed the 21-day registration deadline again in 2010, and neither time was she offered a provisional ballot.

"I think the main issue is why I wasn't given a provisional ballot, and if they had same-day registration, I would've been just able to go and vote," she said.

To support EDR, University students need to make it known they want to vote, as higher courts listen to public opinion and supportive students could only help the political process, Cordeiro said.

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