NJ Transit must now provide voter registration services to users of its Access Link service. (Photo Courtesy of NJ Transit)
County and state transportation services for residents with disabilities will be required to offer voter registration services after New Jersey reached a consent decree with national authorities over violations of the National Voter Registration Act, acting U.S. Attorney Rachael Honig announced Thursday.
Under the agreement, Access Link and Community Transportation — both transit services geared toward residents with disabilities — must distribute voter registration applications to riders and assist them in completing and returning those forms.
“It is critical that all citizens have unfettered access to voter registration opportunities,” Honig said. “I am pleased that the state of New Jersey has worked with the Department of Justice to help ensure that citizens with disabilities will have broad access to the voter registration opportunities that federal law guarantees.”
New Jersey must send voter registration applications to residents using Access Link by Nov. 3 and will be required to revise rules for Community Transportation to comply with the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA).
NJ Transit operates Access Link to provide transportation to residents whose disabilities prevent them from using local bus services, while state-funded and county-operated Community Transportation vans and minibuses provide more localized conveyance for elderly and disabled residents.
The decree follows a notice issued to the state, Secretary of State Tahesha Way and NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett in March that warned of a suit over New Jersey’s breach of a portion of the National Voter Registration Act. That portion of the federal law says offices administering state-funded programs primarily to residents with disabilities must be designated as voter registration agencies.
The law requires designated agencies, which include Medicaid and other aid programs like SNAP, provide residents receiving their services with voter registration applications and related assistance.
Mary Ciccone, policy director for Disability Rights New Jersey, hailed the agreement as a move toward greater ballot access for New Jereyans with disabilities.
“This serves a group of people who may not be involved with any of those systems,” she said. “These are people who may not necessarily be involved with Medicaid. They just don’t drive, so they may not have that access, so it’s a way for people to, once again, have an easier opportunity to register.”
As part of the New Jersey agreement, the state must develop training programs about NVRA requirements and track the transportation services’ compliance with the same.
New Jersey residents can also register to vote when obtaining a driver’s license or other ID at the Motor Vehicle Commission or online, but Ciccone said many of the individuals who use Access Link and Community Transportation programs do not drive and may have limited access to computers.
The short time span between the Department of Justice’s March notice and Thursday’s consent decree suggests the state was willing to embrace the reforms sought by federal authorities, said Ciccone and prominent Democratic election law attorney Scott Salmon.
NJ Transit appeared to agree.
“NJ Transit has worked collaboratively with the Department of Justice to remedy outstanding issues relating to the National Voter Registration Act and create a plan moving forward that ensures compliance with the measure,” said NJ Transit spokesperson Jim Smith.
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