Vote canceled on bill approving same-day voter registration

Supporters say bill would boost voter turnout

By: - March 3, 2022 6:57 am

(Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

A bill that would allow New Jerseyans to register to vote at their polling place on Election Day was pulled from the Senate government committee’s Thursday meeting agenda by Senate leadership, the panel’s chairman said.

It’s not clear why the bill was pulled, though it was likely tabled on the order of Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union). Committee chairs have broad control over their panels’ agendas, but the Senate president has the final say over which bills advance.

Sen. James Beach (D-Camden), the government committee’s chair, said he had been prepared to hold a vote on the bill.

“I didn’t receive a phone call, so I don’t know who, why, what, or where,” Beach said.

Scutari on Wednesday declined to say whether he supports the measure.

“I’m sure that bill is more complicated than the one sentence you’re giving me, so I can’t say one way or the other,” Scutari said.

Existing law requires voters to be registered at least 21 days before an election to cast their ballots on Election Day. The bill would cut that to eight days while also allowing residents to register at their polling place — and then vote — on Election Day. You would also be able to register at your county clerk’s office until 3 p.m the day before an election and vote in that election.

Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Nellie Pou (D-Passaic), the bill’s sponsors, did not return calls seeking comment.

Before his ouster last November, Scutari’s predecessor, Steve Sweeney, said New Jersey was “never going to get same-day voting,” citing opposition within his caucus.

Some opposition may have waned after new district lines placed two Democratic Hudson County senators in a single district. Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson), who was among those opposed to same-day registration, is not seeking re-election after being drawn into a district with Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson).

The drivers behind Democratic opposition vary. Some lawmakers are concerned about introducing unpredictable elements into their races, and others worry enacting more changes to the state’s elections could overburden clerks already strained by separate reforms enacted in recent years.

“I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I am concerned with the difficulty we’ve had in elections the last few years, including the last election in Monmouth County, where it took almost eight days to count their ballots,” said Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), the committee’s vice chair. “I think there needs to be some more confidence in our county clerk and election systems to make sure they can handle things, and I don’t have that confidence right now.”

Advocates have long sought to enact same-day voter registration as a means of boosting voter participation in New Jersey.

Decades of studies have shown the practice leads to as much as a seven percentage point increase in voter turnout, with larger gains among young, Black, and Latino Voters.

Henal Patel, director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s Democracy and Justice Program, said she’s disappointed Thursday’s vote on the bill was canceled.

“We hope that it moves soon and quickly, especially right now with what we’re seeing around the country and around the world, it’s important for us to be standing up for democracy, and this is an important piece of it,” she said.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.