TRENTON – Two bills that would improve voter registration and access rights were approved today by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee.
The first bill (S-1228), sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Senator Nia H. Gill, would automatically register an individual or update voter registration as part of any application for a special learner’s permit, an examination permit, a probationary or basic driver’s license, or a non-driver identification card, or as part of a renewal of any license or identification card, unless the applicant specifically declines the automatic voter registration. A separate statement would also be printed on the application notifying applicants that victims of domestic violence or stalking may decline the automatic voter registration and register to vote without disclosing their street address.
“Making it easier to register to vote will encourage more citizens to exercise their civic duty as Americans and participate in the democratic process,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex), chair of the Health Committee. “This bill will make it that much easier by automatically registering individuals who are applying for or renewing a license or ID to vote, while still providing the option to decline and offering necessary protections for vulnerable individuals.”
“We must remain committed to removing obstacles and expanding opportunities for people to participate in the democratic process and exercise their most fundamental constitutional right to vote,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex, Passaic). “This reform will provide residents with greater access to the process.”
Under current law, voter registration is an option at the Motor Vehicle Commission during license applications or renewals. The bill would require individuals to opt out, a proven technique to increase voter registration.
The second bill (S-2116), designated as the “New Voter Empowerment Act” and sponsored by Senator Jim Beach and Senator Gill, would permit any registered voter who is 17 years of age prior to the date on which a primary election for the general election is held to vote in that primary election if he or she will be 18 years of age on or before the day of the next succeeding general election.
“Individuals who are eligible to vote in a general election should have a role in determining who will be on the ballot in that election,” said Senator Beach (D-Burlington, Camden). “Giving our youth a voice will fully engage them in shaping the future of our state and nation.”
Currently in New Jersey, 17-year-olds can register to vote if they will be 18 by the date of the general election, but they are temporarily ineligible to vote until their 18th birthday. Twenty states have enacted laws allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries or caucuses. In Illinois, when this policy was implemented in 2014, 17-year-old turnout was comparable to the turnout of voters in their 40s according to FairVote.
S-1228 was released from the committee by a vote of 3-2; S-2116 was released by a vote of 5-0. They now head to the full Senate for consideration.