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Expert Brief

Automatic Voter Registration in New Jersey

On April 12th, the New Jersey state legislature approved a bill that establishes automatic voter registration. The bill now heads to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk, and with his signature New Jersey would become the 12th state — along with Washington, D.C. — to approve the reform.

Published: April 12, 2018

On April 12th, both cham­bers of the New Jersey State Legis­lature passed a bill that estab­lishes auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion, a process that would stream­line the state’s voter regis­tra­tion proced­ures and ener­gize the state’s elec­tions. The legis­la­tion now moves to Governor Phil Murphy’s desk, and with his signa­ture, New Jersey would become the 12th state—along with Wash­ing­ton, D.C.—to approve auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion.

The premise is simple: when eligible voters visit state agen­cies like the Motor Vehicle Commis­sion (MVC), the inform­a­tion they provide is safely and accur­ately used to add their names to the voter regis­tra­tion rolls (unless they opt out; no one is required to register).

The Bren­nan Center, New Jersey League of Women Voters, the New Jersey Insti­tute for Social Justice, and others have worked for years in collab­or­a­tion with state lawmakers and the governor to make auto­matic regis­tra­tion in New Jersey a real­ity. Here are a few import­ant facts about auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion, or AVR:

  • Last week, the bill passed through appro­pri­ations commit­tees of both cham­bers of the New Jersey legis­lature. AVR has netted bipar­tisan support in states like Illinois, Vermont, West Virginia, and Alaska. Lead­ers and voters from across the polit­ical spec­trum have endorsed AVR.
  • New Jersey’s bill was updated last week to make AVR even more effect­ive. Right now, the MVC already collects the appro­pri­ate, veri­fi­able inform­a­tion needed to add someone to the regis­tra­tion rolls. The updated bill allows addi­tional state govern­ment agen­cies to join the effort in the future, so long as that agency is capable of accur­ately gath­er­ing the same inform­a­tion about eligible voters. That gives New Jersey­ans maximum flex­ib­il­ity to keep their regis­tra­tion up-to-date.
  • Imple­ment­ing AVR at MVC offices is incred­ibly cost-effect­ive. All it requires is a basic change to the state’s touch screen systems. Instead of opting in to register, New Jersey­ans will have the option to opt out. That’s it. No new forms, no addi­tional bureau­cracy. Just a simple change that could trans­form the way New Jersey conducts its elec­tions.
  • AVR reduces the poten­tial for inac­curacies in voter regis­tra­tion data­bases. One in four voters nation­wide does­n’t real­ize that when you change your address at the post office, that inform­a­tion does not update your voter regis­tra­tion. Amer­ic­ans are increas­ingly mobile, even within a single state, and AVR lets our voter regis­tra­tion system catch up. That means less confu­sion for voters and at the polling place.
  • In states that have imple­men­ted AVR, parti­cip­a­tion and engage­ment have only gone up. In Oregon, the first state to pass AVR, voter rolls are now more reflect­ive of the entire state popu­la­tion: The system has helped low-income communit­ies and rural voters engage more effect­ively with our polit­ics. At a time of great disen­fran­chise­ment, that’s good for voters and good for demo­cracy.

For more inform­a­tion about why AVR is a win-win for New Jersey and the coun­try, visit www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/auto­matic-voter-regis­tra­tion. For members of the press, email Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or Stephen Fee at stephen.fee@nyu.edu.