Our NJ electoral system needs improvement, but for now seize the moment

As the Washington Post points out, it is your right to vote, but how to exercise that right differs across the country. Some states make it easier and some harder. In New Jersey we are doing well in certain cases and not in others. There are changes our Legislature and Governor can implement that would increase convenience and make it easier for voters. The benefit in doing so allows more people to exercise their right, and it increases voter turnout which is at a low level in our state. 

The Washington Post has done an exhaustive state-by-state study of how easy it is to vote in each state. Below are their results for New Jersey.


TURNOUT RATE AT POLLING PLACES: Based on the average total turnout for the voting eligible population in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, NJ’s average was a poor 37%. For example, voter turnout in our 2014 race was only 36%, the lowest in state history for a regularly scheduled federal election. In 2018, both progressive Dems and hard-line Trump supporters seem poised to do better. While the Trump advocates are fewer in NJ, Dems can and must do better if they are to flip GOP seats. As of this moment, for example, in the Monmouth poll for CD 7 Tom Malinowski (D) is +3 over GOP incumbent Leonard Lance but it is within the margin of error.   

PURGING ELECTORAL ROLLS: Purges keep rolls clean of voters who, for instance, have died or moved away. In NJ the rate has been about 6%, whereas other states exceed 10%. Some Republican states have been accused of excessively purging likely Democratic voters, so it has to be done fairly. The idea that election results are being swayed by massive voter fraud has been an idea promulgated by President Trump. But there’s little evidence to back it. Nonetheless, county clerks and election boards in New Jersey have been scrambling to update their voter rolls. One example: Jean Chesney died in April 2014. But two weeks ago her family in Irvington got a letter from the Essex County Clerk’s Office saying that she would be receiving a vote-by-mail ballot. She wasn’t the only one. We can do a better job to keep our rolls up to date.

WHEN MUST YOU REGISTER: The closer to election day by which one must register gives a boost in turnout. Here you must register by October 16 (by law 21 days prior to election). At least 23 states allow registering closer to election day including at least 17 that allow registration on election day. We can do better. To register just submit a completed Voter Registration Application to your local election official. You can also register to vote at your local NJ MVC office when you renew or apply for a driver’s license, or when you visit a few other government agencies. (Above NJ high school students register new voters.) 


EARLY IN-PERSON VOTING: This convenience can increase turnout by 2 to 4%. NJ allows early voting starting on September 22 through November 5 and on election day November 6. Good news here, as we are among the five states which provide the  earliest starting date. Some states still provide no early voting.

VOTE BY MAIL: This process used to be known as Absentee Voting. it has been renamed Vote by Mail because you don’t need to be absent from the area. You might be infirm, have a busy schedule on Voting Day or just want to do it by mail. A voter may vote by mail by completing an Application for Vote by Mail Ballot from the County Clerk 45 starting days before election and returning the application to their County Clerk 7 days prior to the election.

PHOTO ID REQUIREMENT: There are rigorous, sometimes discriminatory rules, in other states that require ID and reduce turnout. Fortunately in NJ when you vote no ID is required unless you’re a first-time voter and didn’t provide an ID during registration. Some other states require non-photo ID or even a photo ID at the polls.  

LENGTH OF WAITING TIME AT THE POLLING PLACE: Voters in most states waited 5-10 minutes to vote. In NJ the waiting time is about seven minutes, which is reasonable. In some states the wait is shorter, particularly those where vote-by-mail is available. 

Today is National Voter Registration day. Are you participating?  This is the first key step in which we all can make a difference. Getting out the vote in the final days prior to election is the equally important last step. In other cases we need to urge the Legislature and Governor to further improve convenience and turnout. For the future there is more that can be done to reform our NJ system, such as reducing the influence of local party bosses and big money in elections. But for now let’s concentrate on what’s important and seize the moment.

For more detailed info on NJ voting regulations go here (vote.org) or here (NJ Division of Elections).

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