Courthouse News Service

New Jersey Voting Restrictions Upheld

Courthouse News Service — July 12, 2016


(CN) — Voters can be prevented from registering fewer than 21 days before an election, a New Jersey appeals court ruled.

The state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Middlesex County Board of Elections and its commissioner of registration, Daniel Frankel, to challenge the restriction on late voter registration.

Joining the ACLU in filing the action were the Rutgers University Student Assembly, Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, New Jersey Citizen Action and six individual plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs argued that voters should be allowed to register on Election Day and that the current law infringes on voters' rights.

They also stated the 21-day restriction is no longer necessary because the state's computer system can stop voter fraud.

The trial court upheld the state law, but the New Jersey Appellate Division remanded the case in 2014 for more information on whether the state's interest in the requirement outweighed the law's burden on voting rights.

On remand, the trial judge again agreed with the election board, calling the requirement "minimal and slight and not unlike similar requirements required of individuals, young and old, in the course of their everyday lives."

Allowing late registration, the judge found, would "create uncertainty, tension and likely increased litigation as to election outcomes."

The ALCU appealed again, but Judge Michael Haas of the appellate division agreed with the trial judge that the law passes constitutional muster.

"We conclude that the statute furthers the fundamental State interest in preserving the integrity of New Jersey's electoral process, while imposing no unreasonable burden upon plaintiffs' right to vote," he wrote on July 1.

Haas added that "a major flaw" in the plaintiffs' argument is "their belief that the post-election day verification process they propose can be accomplished within a mere 24 hours. The record simply does not support this claim."

In the 2008 election, Haas noted, 30 employees working overtime needed seven full days to process 5,617 provisional ballots.

According to Haas, the defendants showed that "advance registration permits voters to receive sample ballots before the election, which provides them with information about the election and enhances their ability to vote."

Judge Mitchel Ostrer wrote a concurring opinion.

"I do not believe that, in order to hold that this requirement is constitutional, we must adopt as our own the conclusions that advance registration preserves public confidence in the electoral process and is essential to confirm voters' addresses, or that 'weeks would pass' before election results could be reported if election day registration were adopted," he wrote. "We need not agree with the Legislature's policy choices in order to sustain them."

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