It’s time to pass same-day voter registration laws in New Jersey | Opinion

A com exclusive article.

y 26, 2023 | By Maryam Ali

The New Jersey primary is just around the corner, but many New Jerseyans may not be able to vote due to barriers such as language access, disability, registration deadlines and more.

Advocates across the state have been calling on state legislators to pass a bill that makes voting more accessible by reducing the standard voter registration deadline and allowing voter registration at polling places.

If passed, the bill could increase turnout by up to 5 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“This legislation is more reflective of who we are as a country and in what direction people would like to see this country going when more people can participate,” said Assatta Mann, the senior organizer at the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

As voter registration laws in New Jersey now stand, voters must register for mail-in ballots and in-person early voting 21 days ahead of an election. Voters who recently moved to New Jersey must also live at their address for a prescribed period of 30 days in order to be considered a resident.

“Currently, you have to be living in a certain location for 30 days to be considered a resident of that area and eligible to vote for the candidates that are going to affect you in the immediate future,” Mann said.

This 30-day waiting period precludes new residents from being able to vote — even if they’ll live in the area for the next several years — as well as college students, which could be a likely contributor to the underrepresentation of young voters in turnout, according to Micauri Vargas, the associate counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

“A lot of times, students move out to different towns and different counties, and they might not be registered in that location,” Vargas said.

With current voting deadlines, students and residents “fall through the cracks,” according to Vargas. Same-day voter registration could help and encourage such groups to turn out to the polls and make their voices heard, because, in states where there is same-day voter registration, youth turnout in presidential elections increases by approximately 14 percentage points, according to Project Vote, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that worked to mobilize marginalized and under-represented voters.

New Jersey residents of color — including immigrants, who make up 23 percent of the state population — register and vote at lower rates than their white counterparts, primarily due to language, deadline and application barriers

Studies show that states, where there is same-day voter registration, have seen anywhere between a 2 to 17 percentage point increase in Black and Latino voter turnout. In New Jersey, specifically, that could mean a significant jump in overall voter turnout, given that approximately 48 percent of the state’s population are people of color, according to 2022 Census data.

Lengthy voting requirements with constricted deadlines also hinder people with disabilities, who may need assistance accessing voting registration documents, ballot boxes, or filling out absentee ballots.

Overall, same-day voter registration simplifies the voting process for Americans who do not have access to reliable, digestible information by removing the added stressors of facing a tall list of voting barriers in a constrained amount of time.

“Generally, there are 22 states and the District of Columbia that have already implemented same-day voter registration,” Mann said. “I think we want to follow in the footsteps of all of those states to be able to implement it in the same way they do to have somewhat of a similar success that they’ve had in terms of increasing voter turnout.”

Same-day voter registration is a “common sense solution,” according to Vargas.

“It promotes democracy and makes it possible to register on the same day and cast the ballot, all in a single day and uses existing election infrastructure. It would be at no cost, really, because it can be done through provisional ballots.”

Over 90 organizations have been working tirelessly to push the same-day voter registration bill through to legislators. The bill has even garnered the support of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who said that it “protects the sacred right to vote.” But within the state legislature, the bill is being challenged by Senate President Nicholas Scutari (LD-22), who has said that it will not ease voting processes, despite research proving otherwise, and that it will instead cause people to question the validity of elections.

Without same-day voter registration, a significant number of New Jersey residents will continue to face barriers to voting, putting the state of our democracy at stake. A democracy is only as good as its participation is, and passing the same-day voter registration bill will empower New Jersey residents and communities of color to let their voices be heard.

Maryam Ali is a legal research and editorial writing intern at CAIR-NJ.