After years of fierce voting rights battles in legislatures and courthouses, there is unmistakable momentum on the side of voters. In March, Oregon passed a groundbreaking automatic registration law, which puts the onus on the government to sign up eligible voters at the DMV. Earlier this month, Hillary Clinton introduced her plan for nationwide early voting and automatic, universal registration. And in the 2015 session alone, five states enacted bipartisan laws to increase voters’ access to the ballot.
Now, New Jersey might be next. Yesterday, the legislature passed the Democracy Act, which would bring a host of voter-friendly changes to the state. If the bill becomes law, it would institute automatic registration (similar to the law Oregon passed), give voters the opportunity to register and update their information online, and create two weeks of in-person early voting, among other reforms. This bill modernizing New Jersey elections now heads to Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) desk for signature. But, despite all the benefits these types of reforms are bringing to voters all over the country, news reports indicate Christie might veto it.
He shouldn’t. All state leaders should move past the voting wars, focus on getting every eligible citizen registered, and clean up the voting rolls.
One out of eight voter registrations in America are outdated or inaccurate, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. And New Jersey has plenty of room for improvement. In the 2014 election, the Garden State experienced record-low participation levels, with only 30.4 percent of eligible voters turning out, placing it among the 10 worst-performing states for voter participation.
Automatic registration in particular would go a long way toward eliminating registration and participation barriers. It would help reduce the possibility that voters are disenfranchised due to registration errors — because the state would take on the burden of getting people on the rolls — and get many new voters signed up for the first time, removing an important hurdle to participation. Moreover, modernizing reforms, such as those in New Jersey’s bill, would reduce registration errors and keep the rolls more accurate than the current system, reducing opportunities for fraud. New Jersey’s plan would automatically register eligible citizens with records at the state’s motor vehicle agencies, but other reliable government databases can and should be used so that all of New Jersey’s eligible citizens are registered.
Online registration and early voting, two other banner reforms included in the Democracy Act, would only compound these benefits. Online voter registration would further clean up the rolls by reducing data entry errors and reliance on illegible forms. And early voting, when offered at a sufficient number of sites, can boost turnout, and is particularly helpful to voters when offered during evening and weekend hours.
Voting modernization like the kind New Jersey has the chance to enact is increasingly a bipartisan issue, with champions on both sides of the aisle. That’s because these modernizing reforms offer something for everyone: increased access to the ballot, cleaner rolls, and cost savings. Republicans ranging from Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to Mitt Romney’s campaign counsel Ben Ginsberg have come out in support of various voting system upgrades.
With this national momentum in favor of reform, and with a major national election on the horizon, now is a great time for political leaders to put politics aside and stand up to protect the right to vote instead of standing in the way of proven reforms. The Democracy Act is good policy for New Jersey, and it’s good policy for the country.