Over the past five years, New Jersey’s legislature has been working to modernize New Jersey’s election system. For example, this past November, early voting at convenient polling places helped all registered voters get to the polls.
But what about voter registration? We still make it difficult for people to register by requiring them to do so well before the actual election date. There is no reason why people cannot register with proper identification that day they come to vote. Twenty states, including Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, California, Connecticut, Maine, and Iowa, allow voters to register at their polling places on Election Day without major problems. For that reason, as a leader with the New Jersey Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC-NJ), which is part of the Democracy in a Day coalition, I call on the Legislature to adopt the same-day voter registration bill, A-1966/S-247.
When I was an active trial judge covering elections, from 2004 to 2013 in the Superior Court, I saw many instances where same day registration would have helped. We had people who were interested enough in voting to come to the courthouse to obtain an order allowing them to vote even though they were not on the voter rolls. I had to turn them away. We also had many others who filled out the forms to register by mail, but these forms were never received. In some cases, both spouses had filled out forms at a motor vehicle agency on the same day, yet one was on the voter rolls but the other spouse’s registration had been lost. Those voters had to trek to court at the county seat, wait for a hearing, and hope that a judge would believe their story that they had tried to register. For every person who made that journey to court, there were probably many times that number who simply gave up and when home when they were told by their local poll workers that their names did not appear on the voter rolls.
Year after year, people move, including many students who are living in away from home, and many others who are eligible to vote do not focus on the election until shortly before Election Day. In addition, paper voter registration forms get lost: these people should not have to go to judge to vote.
We say we want young people, who tend to be more mobile, to get involved in the political process and to establish regular exercise of the franchise as a habit. Yet we simultaneously put barriers in their way through a registration system with an artificially early deadline for registration that is not necessary in the twenty-first century. Studies have shown that voting by persons in the 18-to-24 year old bracket might increase by as much as 10% with same day registration. Same day registration also makes it easier for people who have just gotten interested in a close election, like our recent gubernatorial contest, to register and vote on the same day.
It is time to end this needless barrier to voting. The Legislature should pass S247/A1966 to enhance our progress towards voting rights for all in New Jersey.
Peter A. Buchsbaum served as a judge of the New Jersey Superior Court from 2004 to 2013, and on recall from 2013 to 2016. He is a former Mayor of West Amwell and was a law secretary to New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Joseph Weintraub.