TRENTON – Standing in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, today Senate President Steve Sweeney joined Democratic legislators to implore Governor Christie to sign much needed legislation (S-50/A-4613) known as “The Democracy Act.”
At a news conference in Liberty State Park in Jersey City, Senator Sweeney reminded the Governor, New Jersey ranks 39th in both voter registration and voter turnout.
“The numbers are clear. New Jersey is not doing enough to make sure all of our eligible voters are able to participate in our democratic process,” said Senator Sweeney. “The right to self-determination is one of our most treasured American freedoms and we should be doing everything in our power to help our citizens exercise that right.”
New Jersey’s voting laws have changed little since the early 1900s. In the modern economy, with working families often holding multiple jobs, increased access is essential to making sure voting is available to every eligible resident.
“The Democracy Act” improves access to the ballot box by increasing early voting opportunities and streamlines voter registration by creating an online registration option, as well as offering automatic registration for those obtaining a driver’s license.
“Fifty years ago, President Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called ‘a great step forward in removing all the remaining obstacles to the right to vote,’” said Senator Nia H. Gill. “We have come far in 50 years, but the fight is not yet over. We must continue to advance inclusive policies for our residents and to expand access to voting in our democratic process. The Democracy Act would be another ‘great step forward’ for voting rights. We are calling on the governor to acknowledge the serious problems faced by so many in this state, and expand access to the polls. We are asking him to lead, and sign this legislation.”
The bill passed both houses at the end of June and now awaits a decision from the Governor.
“I know Governor Christie is focused on polling these days, so perhaps he’d be interested to learn The Democracy Act enjoys strong support from New Jersey residents. Two thirds of people asked in a recent poll say it’s time to expand early voting and to implement automatic registration when applying for a driver’s license,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.
Along with streamlining the registration process, deployed members of the military and others overseas would be allowed to cast their vote using the internet or fax machine.
“New Jersey residents can file their taxes and do their banking online. There’s no reason that same convenience can’t be extended to our electoral process. Let’s bring our voting laws into the 21st Century,” suggested Senator Paul Sarlo.
“The fight to improve social and political equality in this country continues, decades after the start of the Civil Rights Movement,” said Senator Ronald L. Rice. “While we press forward into new areas, it’s important to make sure we don’t lose sight of the hard fought gains made by those who came before us. This bill defends that progress.”
“I’m proud to co-sponsor such an important piece of legislation,” said Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham. “The health of our Democracy depends on a robust level of voter participation. We should embrace every tool we have to improve both registration and turnout. I urge the Governor to sign this bill.”
“Making sure that all eligible voters have their voices heard is critical. We can improve accessibility by allowing those approaching the age of 18 to pre-register to vote. Providing outreach to voters in languages other than English will also create greater opportunities for our residents to participate in the election process,” added Senator M. Teresa Ruiz.
The Democracy Act
- Early Voting – The bill establishes an in-person early voting procedure to allow voters to cast their votes at specially designated polling places, starting on the 15th day before the general election, and ending at 3 p.m. on the calendar day before the election. A municipality holding municipal elections on the second Tuesday in May, by an ordinance adopted by its governing body, may also conduct in-person early voting for those municipal elections.Universal voter registration – Modeled after a successful Oregon law, anyone who gets a driver’s license or state ID card with the MVC would automatically be registered to vote unless they affirmatively opt-out.
- Eliminate special elections to fill vacancies – New Jersey taxpayers would not be subject to expensive special elections on irregular days to fill vacancies for office such as the $24 million U.S. Senate election on a Wednesday in October 2013. Senate seats that become vacant more than 70 days before a general election would be filled at that election. All others would be filled at the next year’s general election. And while the governor would retain the right to pick an interim senator in the event of a vacancy, the choice would have to be from the same political party as the senator who had held the seat.
- Expand access for military and overseas voters – Members of the military and those overseas would be able to take advantage of technology such as the Internet, fax machines, or other means to make voting convenient and secure.
- Allow for online voter registration – Require the Secretary of State to establish a secure Internet website to allow eligible voters to register to vote using an online voter registration form.
- 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.