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How The New Jersey Democracy Act Could Change Statewide Voting Laws

Voters fill out their ballots in a gym on election day at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. New Yorkers will decided whether to send back Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a second term. If Cuomo wins he will be the first Democratic governor since his father, Mario Cuomo, to win re-election. Cuomo faces Republican Rob Astorino.

CREDIT: AP/Mike Groll.

Earlier this year, the New Jersey State Senate passed the New Jersey Democracy Act: a package deal of voting rights measures including expanding early voting opportunities, online voter registration, and automatic voter registration at Motor Vehicle Commission offices. Now awaiting final consideration, The Democracy Act’s fate is currently in the hands of Governor Chris Christie (R) to decide whether or not to sign the voting reforms into law.

With voter participation nearing historic lows in New Jersey (the most recent primary election had the lowest turn-out in nine decades), many view this legislation as as important step to modernize and update election procedures. As a recent Rutgers report showed, a majority of New Jersey citizens support the Democracy Act and reforming the statewide voting system procedures. With 67 percent of residents in favor of early-voting measures, 59 percent in support of an online voter registration system, and two-thirds of residents in favor of automatic registration when applying for a driver’s license and printing voting materials in more languages, it is clear that the Garden State is ready for voting changes even if Governor Christie may not be.

Supporters of the Democracy Act include groups such as the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, New Jersey Working Families, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey. In urging the state to adopt the procedures, the ACLU of New Jersey highlighted the Garden State’s incredibly low national ranking of registered and active voters.

Gov. Christie has previously voiced disapproval of the bill. If passed, however, the legislation could help mobilize current registered voters and encourage new voters to turn up at the polls. In the long-run, the bill aims to make New Jersey’s voters more accurately reflect the diversity of the state.

Even if Christie does not sign the bill, there is still hope for the Democracy Act and the future of modernizing inclusive elections in New Jersey. As Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling put it: “Even if Governor Christie vetoes the Democracy Act, public opinion for the for the state Legislature’s side could translate into success for some form of the bill as a ballot initiative in 2016. And this solid support exists even though few know how poorly our state does on voter participation: a third of eligible voters turned out in 2014, and just 5 percent voted in the most recent primaries.”

With many states across the nation having changed or in the process of changing their voting policies in preparation for the 2016 election, the Democracy Act and the future of New Jersey elections could lead the way for still other states to follow.

Jazmin Kay is a reporter for Generation Progress, covering voting rights and civic engagement. Follow her on Twitter at @jazminlkay.

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