Greenwald: Democracy Act Veto a Blow to Voting Rights in New Jersey

Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) issued the following statement Monday after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed legislation he sponsored to strengthen democracy in New Jersey by improving the state’s voting laws (The Democracy Act – A-4613):

“I guess the governor’s so busy trying to get folks in Iowa and New Hampshire to cast ballots that he can’t bother to focus on resolving the voter participation problem right here in New Jersey.

“Motivated by pure partisan politics and a brazen effort to satisfy voters everywhere except New Jersey, the governor didn’t even take the time to issue a conditional veto. Sowing the seeds of greater voting access for military families and less voter fraud apparently is a trivial pursuit to a governor who no longer can reap the benefits of an improved electoral system.

“New Jersey saw historic lows in voter turnout in 2015, continuing a years-long pattern of nonparticipation in the democratic process. With the majority of our state’s electorate going unheard, the governor’s refusal to sign a measure that would make it easier for more people to vote is an affront to the ideals upon which this nation was founded.

“I’d like to be able to say I’m puzzled by the governor’s action, but at this point, we all know better than to assume that a common sense bill with the sole purpose of creating a stronger New Jersey would become law while he’s in office.

“This veto presents a speed bump on the road to modernizing our election laws, but increasing voter participation and strengthening the integrity of elections in New Jersey must remain a priority. This need for reform will be at the forefront as the Speaker, the bill’s other sponsors and I discuss how to proceed.”

The Democracy Act proposed:
· Early voting – Voters would have the ability to vote early at convenient times and locations, including extended and weekend hours and numerous locations throughout the state. This would occur during a two-week window up through the Sunday before the Tuesday election to allow voter books to be updated.
· Universal voter registration – Modeled after a successful Oregon law, anyone who gets a driver’s license or state ID card with the DMV would automatically be registered to vote unless they affirmatively opt-out.
· Eliminating special elections to fill vacancies – New Jersey taxpayers would not be subject to expensive special elections on irregular days to fill vacancies for office such as the $24 million U.S. Senate election on a Wednesday in October 2013. Senate seats that become vacant more than 70 days before a general election would be filled at that election. All others would be filled at the next year’s general election. And while the governor would retain the right to pick an interim senator in the event of a vacancy, the choice would have to be from the same political party as the senator who had held the seat.
· Expanding access for military and overseas voters – Members of the military and those overseas would be able to take advantage of technology such as the Internet, fax machines, or other means to make voting convenient and secure.
· Allowing for online voter registration – Require the Secretary of State to establish a secure Internet website to allow eligible voters to register to vote using an online voter registration form.
· Expanding “vote-by mail” – Voters would be able to choose to vote by mail. Voters who have applied for a ballot but not yet returned it would be able to vote at the polls without excuse on Election Day. And all vote-by-mail would be done at no cost to the individual voter.
· Prohibiting harassment at the polls – An existing consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice prohibiting harassment of voters at the polls ends in 2017. The decree would be put into law.
· Ensuring access for people with disabilities – All places for voting, early voting, in-person registration, mail-in registration and online registration would be accessible to those with disabilities.
· Pre-registering of Young Voters – Allow a person who is 17 years of age to register to vote, and may vote at the next election occurring on or after the person’s 18th birthday.
· Ensuring access for non-English speakers – In a state with as much diversity as New Jersey, as many eligible New Jerseyans as possible would be able to vote and register to vote in a language they understand.
· Strengthening voter fraud laws – It would change New Jersey law to allow for voter fraud challenges when reasonable evidence exists that illegal votes have been received, or legal votes rejected at the polls sufficient to change the result.