Measures Would Allow for Secure Online Voter Registration, Ease Vote-By-Mail, Eliminate Duplicative Sample Ballot Mailings
TRENTON – The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee today released three measures aimed at streamlining the state’s processes for voter registration and allowing residents to cast their ballots by mail, and saving taxpayers money by eliminating duplicative mailings of sample ballots.
“Elections aren’t just expensive because of campaigns, they also carry with them significant administrative costs and hurdles that can and should be addressed and removed,” said Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic), the committee chairman. “When we can streamline the way we do things, voters and the democratic process both win.”
Under the first bill (S-2168/2170) – sponsored by Whelan and Sens. Jim Beach (D-Camden/Burlington) and Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) – eligible residents would be able to register to vote via a secure website, using their driver’s license and social security numbers, among other secure identifying information. Election officials would be authorized to use digitized signatures from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s database to verify the information.
Currently, prospective voters must either fill out a paper registration form which is mailed to the county clerk, or if registering at MVC through the motor-voter law, still have to mail in a signed form.
“Why the current process requires unnecessary and costly hoops when everything elections officials need is already digitized is beyond comprehension,” said Whelan. “Paperless registration is more accurate and more cost-effective. Registering to vote should be a seamless and easy process for every resident.”
“MVC already has safeguards in place to promote public safety and protect against identity theft,” said Beach, who served as Camden County Clerk prior to his election to the Senate. “Let’s put the safeguards we rely on to ensure the identity of licensed drivers to work to help speed the process of voter registration.”
“As we recognize the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, it’s critical that we continue to find ways to eliminate obstacles to voting so that our democracy becomes stronger and more inclusive. While states like Pennsylvania make it more difficult to vote this bill will better ensure that voting rolls are accurate while encouraging participation,” said Buono.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 10 states currently offer online paperless voter registration – Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Three others – California, Connecticut and South Carolina – have enacted legislation facilitating online voter registration, but have not yet begun electronically registering voters.
By turning the entire process digital, the costs of processing each new voter registration would be slashed from 87 cents per form to 51 cents per form – a reduction of more than 40 percent.
A second bill (S-1682) would permit a registered voter to a vote-by-mail ballot for all future elections or for future general elections only, eliminating the current option that allows a voter to request a mail-in ballot for each election that occurs in a calendar year. The bill would also would direct county clerks to send only one sample ballot to each residence address where a registered voter lives; under current law, every registered voter receives his or her own sample ballot, a situation that leads to many households receiving individually addressed yet multiple sample ballots.
“Having your voice heard through the ballot box is the most important thing anyone can do in a democracy,” said Beach, the bill’s sponsor. “That is why we need to make the process of voting easier, especially for those who either may find it difficult to get to a polling place or whose schedules make it easy for them to simply forget to cast a ballot. Voting by mail is an easy, increasingly popular way for people to take part in the process.”
In 2005, New Jersey overhauled its “absentee voter” laws to allow voters to cast their ballots by mail for any reason. More than half of the states now allow this form of absentee voting.
The third bill (S-363) released by the committee would allow voters to receive their primary and school election sample ballots by e-mail, rather than regular mail. It is sponsored by Beach and Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden).
“There is no reason why something as basic as voter outreach cannot be transitioned to the Internet age,” said Beach. “Countless residents already receive their utility bills and bank and credit card statements by e-mail. Election law should fully embrace the Internet, too.”
Under current law, sample ballots must be printed and mailed to each eligible registered voter prior to the annual general, primary and school elections. Beach and Norcross contend the move would save taxpayers the costs associated with printing and mailing the sample ballots, noting that most county clerk offices already provide PDF files of their sample ballots for voters to download.
“Mailing paper sample ballots costs money, but e-mail costs virtually nothing,” said Norcross. “If a voter wants to receive their sample ballot in a way that gets them the information they need while saving money, there shouldn’t be anything standing in the way.”
The bills now all head to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further considerations.