Advocacy groups push for passage of same-day voter registration law in N.J.

In the background, several people exit a polling station. In the foreground are two signs that read,

File photo: Voters leaves a polling site in a fire station in Hoboken, N.J., Tuesday, June 7, 2016. (Seth Wenig/AP)

About 100 advocacy groups in New Jersey are calling on state lawmakers to pass a measure that allows people to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day, including on Election Day. 

If enacted before November, the change would be in effect for this year’s midterm elections. 

Led by organizations like the New Jersey Institute For Social Justice and the League of Women Voters, the coalition said the measure would boost voter turnout, especially among young voters and communities of color. 

The coalition sent a joint letter to Senate President Nick Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

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The groups said same-day voter registration would also help when someone moves to a different part of the state during election season and must update their address, therefore impacting polling locations.

Henal Patel leads democracy and social justice initiatives at the New Jersey Institute For Social Justice. She said her organization has been following the proposal since state lawmakers first introduced it in 2020. 

It comes as New Jersey has already expanded access to the ballot in a number of ways, including by allowing people on parole to vote and introducing early in-person voting last year.

“New Jersey has had a three-week voter registration deadline for a long time. And it’s completely arbitrary, now,” Patel said. “Twenty states, Washington, D.C. have done away with it. It’s no longer necessary because we have ways to verify people’s identities and allow them to vote.”

Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, said voting should be “as inclusive as possible,” and that this bill would help make that a reality. 

“New Jersey has done a really great job in recent years and passed a lot of voting reforms to protect democracy and access to the ballot,” Burns said. “But we’re still missing a really essential part.”

“When you think about voter engagement and voter protection … you need safeguards. Same-day voter registration is one of the safeguards we’re currently missing,” Burns said. 

She said the same-day voter registration proposal would help people who are released from prison on parole or probation after the October deadline to register to vote. 

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In 2019, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that restored voting rights to people released on parole or probation. 

“Think about all the things you have to do after you’re released,” Burns said. “You have to get your life together. One of the things you might not be thinking about is that voter registration deadline until it’s too late.”

Supporters said that this legislation would also boost voter turnout in many of New Jersey’s Black communities, where voting rights have become a perennial issue. 

Ma’isha Aziz, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference’s youth advisor for Camden County East, said she has been active in voter registration initiatives in predominantly Black communities for 20 years. 

In her experience, she said many people who may be disillusioned by the democratic process or who may be uninformed about election dates and deadlines don’t become energized to vote until a few days before the election. 

She called this a “lightbulb” moment.

“Same day voter registration will enable our people to simultaneously have this light go off, and be able to register their vote and have their vote counted, and their voice heard all at the same time,” Aziz said. 

Jasmin Jones, a Rowan University student who works alongside Aziz as president for the NAACP New Jersey State Conference’s Youth and College program, said same-day voter registration would simplify the process for young people who may be living away from home for the first time, juggling a world of new responsibilities. 

“I think that for college students, especially in terms of my experience, it was a little confusing of whether I should vote in my school district or if I should vote back home,” Jones said. “And I think that being a student just complicates that process even more.” 

Chris-Tina Middlebrooks, a 16-year-old high school student also involved in the NAACP’s work on voting reform, said many teenagers are not adequately informed on matters of civic engagement in school, and therefore may not know there is a deadline to register to vote. 

Civics education has been a recent topic of discussion in Trenton, partly because of a surge in misinformation and low voter turnout in non-presidential elections. 

“A lot of times we are misinformed, or we don’t have enough information to know when to either register or depending on our birthdays, to be able to make that cut off. So having same-day voter registration will give younger people more of an opportunity to go out and be a part of this process to elect officials,” Middlebrooks said.

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