TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale and Senator James Beach that would improve voter registration was approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“It is the right and civic duty of every American citizen to vote, and automatic registration at license application or renewal will make it easier to access that right,” 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.”
A separate statement would 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.
Additionally, individuals who are not entitled to vote that are automatically registered under the bill would not be guilty of fraudulently voting or attempting to fraudulently vote as long as they do not willfully vote knowing they are not entitled to vote.
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.
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 bill was released from committee by a vote 7-4, and next heads to the Senate for further consideration.