The measure would allow those who would be 18 by November elections to cast primary ballots that year, even if they are still 17. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
Assembly lawmakers approved a measure Thursday that would allow some 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections.
The measure, sponsored by Assemblymen Bill Moen (D-Camden), would allow voters who would be 18 on the date of the next general election to cast ballots in that year’s primaries, an allowance the bill’s supporters view as a path to building voting habits in the state’s young people.
“Once someone becomes a voter, they tend to stay a voter,” said Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), the bill’s Senate sponsor.
Moen, who is among the Legislature’s youngest members, said 18 other states, including ones where Republicans are dominant, have adopted similar reforms.
“It’s obvious that there’s apathy on our college campuses and even earlier than that,” Moen said. “Any chance that we can get to get individuals started earlier, we should really consider.”
Democrats in the Legislature have sought to extend such suffrage to 17-year-olds for years. They came close in 2016, but then-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bipartisan measure, saying he was unsure whether it would pass constitutional muster.
The bill cleared the chamber in a 50-24 vote. Seven Republicans —Robert Clifton, Christopher DePhillips, Aura Dunn, Victoria Flynn, Don Guardian, Kevin Rooney, and Claire Swift — broke with their party to support the bill.
A Senate companion to the bill has yet to reach a committee hearing, and Zwicker said the measure is likely to remain on the back burner until legislators return to Trenton in the fall to allow lawmakers to focus on more time-sensitive election reforms.
He said lawmakers would seek to enact uniform election results reporting rules and make technical changes to some election deadlines before breaking for the summer following a budget vote expected in late June.
The reporting and tallying of election results have become more complicated in recent years, and officials now regularly deal with a deluge of mail-in ballots that are more difficult to canvass and tally than Election Day machine votes.
The bill approved Thursday would go into effect on Jan. 1 if signed into law.
“As we see more and more younger folks engaged in issues that are important to them, I think this bill is even more needed now than it was,” Zwicker said.
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