TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Senator James Beach that would improve voter registration was advanced from the Senate today.
“It is the civic duty of every American citizen to vote, and automatic registration at license application or renewal will make it easier to uphold that duty,” said Senator Vitale (D-Middlesex). “Our goal is to make it easier for citizens to register to vote and encourage greater participation in the democratic process while at the same time providing necessary safeguards for vulnerable individuals.”
The bill, S-481, 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.
“With voter turnout consistently low, we should be looking for ways to encourage participation by making registration easier,” said Senator Beach (D-Camden/Burlington). “As we seek to improve voter registration and ultimately voter turnout, this reform will prove valuable.”
Applicants who do not decline voter registration would be required to affirm that they are eligible to vote. A separate statement would also be provided with 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.
Online license renewals would be used for automatic voter registration only when online voter registration is in place. The bill would also require that license renewals by mail would be used for automatic voter registration only if the Chief Administrator of the MVC deems it practicable. Every six months, the Chief Administrator would be required to send an update to the Governor and the Legislature on the practicability of such measure.
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 bill would allow other agencies, upon the approval of the Secretary of State, to implement automatic voter registration.
In March 2015, Oregon became the first state to automatically register eligible citizens with driver’s licenses. Since then, California, Vermont and West Virginia have adopted similar laws.
Currently, 27 other states have pending legislation to create automatic voter registration.
The Senate approved the bill by a vote 24-13, and it now goes to the Governor’s desk.