July 4, 2015
By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
A new, nonpartisan election study found that states that allow voters to register and update their registration information on Election Day have voter turnouts that average at least 10 points above states that do not.
New Jersey had an election last month, and nobody showed up. Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but just barely: The primary turnout was the lowest in 90 years.
Our elected officials – who apparently want to be taken more seriously than the rest of us take them – recognize this as a trend. We avoid the polls like anthrax, so the voting reform package sent to the governor included smart proposals such as early-voting accommodation, registration for eligible residents when obtaining a driver’s license, and online registration.
But when the omnibus bill advanced out of committee, same-day registration – which allows for residents to register at polling places on Election Day and cast provisional ballots – wasn’t in it.
It hardly matters whether this was a large-D Democratic dysfunction or just a legislative hiccup, but that provision must be restored to address the turnout deficit.
Even if Gov. Christie vetoes the package – the lock of the century, that — Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) should give voters their annual whack at amending the state constitution to affirm that voter participation must be a priority in a state where too many stay home.
And same-day registration is the one component that can reverse the trend.
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No doubt, Gov. Christie will bray about fraud that doesn’t exist, just as Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) did when he performed the surgery that removed same-day registration.
And they’re wrong. A Brennan Center report found virtually no voter fraud in election-day registration states. The Secretary of State of Minnesota says SDR provides more security “because you have the person right in front of you–not some postcard in the mail. That is a no-brainer.”
You’ll also hear a partisan fallacy about how same-day registration “does nothing to increase voter turnout or advance democracy.” That was the assessment of Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union), who won reelection in 2011, when only 41,000 of the 110,000 voters in his district showed up.
Wrong again. States with SDR have the highest turnouts, all studies show.
So it needs to be a part of our election process – even if it’s just for general elections – because the numbers are a disgrace: Only 5.1 percent showed up for the primaries; the 2013 Senate election drew 25 percent; and the 39-percent turnout for the gubernatorial election in 2013 was the lowest ever.
We have one of the most educated populations in the country, yet only 64 percent of eligible voters were registered in 2012. That places New Jersey 39th in the U.S. Mississippi (82.8 percent) puts us to shame.
If this embarrassing trend cannot be fixed by law, the legislature should put it on a referendum, because it’s time to make New Jersey a representative democracy again. As a wise man once said, decisions are made by people who show up — better late than never.