New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state. Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation. Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high level decisions are made. They will get together every week with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.
Question: Some people think that same-day voter registration would boost turnout, but others say it would lead to increased voter fraud. Should New Jersey debate this issue or just ignore it?
Alex: Phil Murphy and the Democrats can’t competently administer the state’s elections under the current rules, so why would we sow even more chaos into this system with same-day voter registration?
As of this writing, there are elections that remain undecided in Mercer County. When machines went awry on Election Day there, there was no Deputy Superintendent of Elections – a Republican position – because the Murphy Administration refused to fill it after a nearly yearlong vacancy. Until Murphy can master the basics, let’s not give him anymore “California of the East” ideas.
(Just to be clear: this does not mean that Republicans should not take advantage of existing “reforms” with which we may disagree, like the expanded vote-by-mail program).
Dan: Republicans should love same-day voter registration. It ensures that any eligible voter with an ID can vote, regardless of registration status. And it helps clean up the voter rolls in real time, allowing for more accurate voter data.
But of course, there’s an obvious reason they don’t want it: allowing same-day voter registration leads to a marked increase in voter turnout, especially among young people and new citizens. Hidden in the latest bout of overt democracy subversion by President Trump and his gang of idiots is the long-simmering opposition the GOP has had to making voting easier for all eligible US citizens. They try to hide behind false claims of fraud and pleas for election integrity, but it’s clear that they only care about winning elections by any means necessary.
US citizens in New Jersey shouldn’t have to worry about whether registration status or outdated data will keep them from exercising their sacred right to vote. Any American citizen should feel confident that they will be able to walk into their polling place and vote on election day, no matter what.
Question: An election in Mendham Township that was decided by just three votes is now headed to court in January. This happens every year. Is it time for the legislature to provide for automatic recounts so that election challenges are settled before elected officials are due to be sworn into office?
Dan: It’s time. Voters should understand the democratic process with clarity, rather than relying on one-off rulings that can sometimes appear arbitrary. We’ve done a lot to expand democracy in the last few years, and anything that can be done to make the democratic process sturdier and clearer should be done.
Alex: I think automatic recounts make sense as long as there is a high enough threshold in place to prevent needless waste of taxpayer resources. This should be a simple way to provide certainty and reassurance to voters in a functioning democracy.
Question: The tradition of having an acting governor every time the governor leaves the state dates back to a time when communications with the state capitol were not as effortless as they are today. Considering new technologies, does the idea that a governor cannot govern remotely continue to make sense?
Alex: Even if it’s a formality at times, I think there is value to having a leader who can be physically present in the Governor’s absence. When you think back to the two catastrophes to hit New Jersey in modern memory – Superstorm Sandy and the COVID-19 pandemic – the visibility of the state’s leadership on television, radio, and social media was critically important to people looking for guidance in uncertain situations.
Also, in fairness to we the people in the event of an emergency: the time difference between New Jersey and Phil Murphy’s Italian villa is considerable and not all private jets have Wi-Fi available.
Dan: I think we need to draw the line somewhere other than “out of state.” Clearly if the Governor is on vacation (like when Governor Christie was in Disney World during a massive snowstorm) or experiencing a serious medical issue, there should be an acting Governor. But if our Governor is in DC on state business, or within a short drive of New Jersey for any reason, there is no good reason to name an Acting Governor.
If circumstances dictate an acting Governor, name one. Otherwise, let’s let the person that was elected to govern the state do their job.
Question: Patrick Leahy went to the U.S. Senate at age 34 and when he leaves office next week, he’ll have spent 48 years in office. Now Vermont will get a younger Senator, Peter Welch, who is 75; he’ll serve with 81-year-old Bernie Sanders. Should generational change be left up to the voters, or should laws be passed that help that along?
Dan: I don’t think we should be placing limitations on who can and can’t be an elected official. President Biden, who just turned 80, is enjoying one of the most successful first terms in recent history. And as much as we like to say we’re concerned about the average age of a US Senator, try telling the people of Vermont that they can’t vote for Bernie Sanders again.
One of my favorite political stories of the past decade has been the success of Mayor Vito Perillo of Tinton Falls, who was reelected to a second term in 2021 at the age of 97. Four years earlier, at the age of 93, he wore out two pairs of shoes knocking on every door in his community, outworking the opposition and beating an incumbent Mayor. I’d like to see someone go tell him he’s too old to be in elected office.
Alex: I don’t think the state should make decisions that rightfully belong to voters, and, in my opinion, that includes assessing a candidate’s age relative to his or her fitness for office. We all know from our own life experiences that age really is just a number, and we should be careful not to apply an arbitrary cut-off to candidates who seek public office.
Is that frustrating at times? Of course, but it’s up to voters to decide and opposing campaigns to credibly make that case.
Question: As we get ready to bring in the New Year, is there anything the other party supported in 2022 that genuinely pleases you?
Alex: I genuinely appreciate Phil Murphy’s funding of New Jersey’s historical sites ahead of the country’s semi quincentennial anniversary in 2026. With the spirit of Christmas still in the air, let us not forget that it was Washington’s miraculous turnaround at the Battle of Trenton that gave the Continental Army – and ultimately, our fledgling country – a fighting chance. We owe it to future generations of Americans and New Jerseyans to preserve these sites!
Dan: It should surprise no one that Alex is being much nicer that I am. But I am genuinely happy to see how few Republicans are contesting their midterm election losses. Sure, the Kari Lakes and Doug Mastrianos of the world are still out there embarrassing themselves, but it’s good to see Republican candidates that lose close, tough elections conceding again. Maybe that’s a low bar, but to me, it was one of the most promising political developments of 2022.