Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) this afternoon condemned Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to veto the so-called Democracy Act – A-4613, which Prieto said he authored to modernize New Jersey’s voting laws.
“The governor never ceases to disappoint,” Prieto said. “This bill should have been signed into law. Nothing in it was objectionable or unreasonable, but we’re not giving up on this important initiative. I will confer with my fellow legislative leaders and sponsors to decide the next step, even if that means taking these reforms directly to the voters for approval and enshrinement in the state constitution.
“This is the bottom line – the people of New Jersey want changes to our voting laws and they shouldn’t have to wait,” he added. “The right to vote is a hallmark of our democracy, but access to that right to vote is also tantamount. New Jersey has been stuck in the Stone Age when it comes to our voting laws. We could have changed this with these common sense reforms.”
As part of his veto, the governor griped that the legislation mirrors a misguided bill he killed in the last legislative session because it would recklessly replace New Jersey’s reliable and cost-effective early voting process with a costly, counterproductive and duplicative system costing taxpayers $25 million initially and millions more each subsequent year.
“This 71-page bill, styled as “The Democracy Act,” will not further democracy, but endanger the State’s longstanding and proven election system,” Christie wrote. “Instead of playing politics with the State’s electoral system, the sponsors should work across the aisle on responsible and cost-effective electoral reform.”
Christie said the voting public’s use of mail-in ballots has already increased steadily in recent years because of the simple, effective vote-by-mail system already in place, and elections have been consolidated to better accommodate voter participation as well as to save tax dollars. According to the latest available PEW Charitable Trusts assessment, New Jersey’s registered voter rate is at 86.54 percent.
“Tellingly, the bill lacks the support of the bipartisan group of county election officials who would be responsible for its implementation and administration,” wrote Christie, who said the legislation would needlessly impose further cumbersome, costly, and inadvisable requirements on the State’s election process. Eligible voters in the Garden State already have ample opportunities to register to vote and cast their ballots. Voter registration applications are available online or at motor vehicle agencies, county and municipal offices, schools, libraries, social services agencies and other public offices. Nine out of ten eligible voters in New Jersey were registered to vote last year.
“New Jersey taxpayers deserve better than to have their hard-earned tax dollars spent on thinly-veiled political gamesmanship and the State must ensure that every eligible citizen’s vote counts and is not stolen by fraud,” the governor said.
Prieto, of course, sees it differently, and emphasized the Democracy Act’s following proposals:
- Early voting – Voters would have the ability to vote early at convenient times and locations, including extended and weekend hours and numerous locations throughout the state. This would occur during a two-week window up through the Sunday before the Tuesday election to allow voter books to be updated.
- Universal voter registration – Modeled after a successful Oregon law, anyone who gets a driver’s license or state ID card with the DMV would automatically be registered to vote unless they affirmatively opt-out.
- Eliminating special elections to fill vacancies – New Jersey taxpayers would not be subject to expensive special elections on irregular days to fill vacancies for office such as the $24 million U.S. Senate election on a Wednesday in October 2013. Senate seats that become vacant more than 70 days before a general election would be filled at that election. All others would be filled at the next year’s general election. And while the governor would retain the right to pick an interim senator in the event of a vacancy, the choice would have to be from the same political party as the senator who had held the seat.
- Expanding access for military and overseas voters – Members of the military and those overseas would be able to take advantage of technology such as the Internet, fax machines, or other means to make voting convenient and secure.
- Allowing for online voter registration – Require the Secretary of State to establish a secure Internet website to allow eligible voters to register to vote using an online voter registration form.
- Expanding “vote-by mail” – Voters would be able to choose to vote by mail. Voters who have applied for a ballot but not yet returned it would be able to vote at the polls without excuse on Election Day. And all vote-by-mail would be done at no cost to the individual voter.
- Prohibiting harassment at the polls – An existing consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice prohibiting harassment of voters at the polls ends in 2017. The decree would be put into law.
- Ensuring access for people with disabilities – All places for voting, early voting, in-person registration, mail-in registration and online registration would be accessible to those with disabilities.
- Pre-registering of Young Voters – Allow a person who is 17 years of age to register to vote, and may vote at the next election occurring on or after the person’s 18th birthday.
- Ensuring access for non-English speakers – In a state with as much diversity as New Jersey, as many eligible New Jerseyans as possible would be able to vote and register to vote in a language they understand.
- Strengthening voter fraud laws – It would change New Jersey law to allow for voter fraud challenges when reasonable evidence exists that illegal votes have been received, or legal votes rejected at the polls sufficient to change the result.