From the time they are young, American children are taught about the importance of voting — and how easy it is.
Recently, though, some states have tightened their voting laws — Texas just got the OK from a divided US Supreme Court to enforce a law requiring voters to show a voter ID card or some other form of identification before being allowed to cast a ballot.
But in New Jersey, voting is still relatively easy and straightforward. Here’s a review of voting rules in the state.
Who can vote: The state constitution provides that all US citizens age 18 and older who have lived in New Jersey for at least 30 days can register to vote in an election, with a couple of exceptions. Anyone convicted of an indictable offense — including stalking, forgery, arson, sex crimes, burglary, kidnapping, white-collar crimes, drug crimes, murder, manslaughter, rape, and certain robbery and drunken-driving offenses — cannot vote while serving his sentence or while on probation or parole, according to state law. Those out on bail pending appeal may vote, as can those who have completed a sentence — once they re-register. The state constitution also carved out an exception for those with mental incapacities — people who have been determined by a court to “lack the capacity to understand the act of voting” are prohibited from casting ballots.
Registration: Residents need to register to vote only once, as long as they stay at the same address. Registration can be done by mail, at elections.nj.gov, or in person with the local municipal clerk or county clerk or at the board of elections office. Drivers can also register when getting or renewing a license. One must show identification — a driver’s license, student or government ID, or a bill or official document with a name and address.
There is a deadline — 21 days before an election – for those voting for the first time. That means it’s too late to vote on Nov. 4 if you’re not already registered.
If you have moved: State law ties voting to county of residence. A person who moves within the same election district need only sign a statement indicating the new address to be able to vote, regardless of how close to Election Day the move occurs. A person who moves outside of his or her election district but within the same county, and has not notified county election officials of the address change, can still vote, although by provisional ballot (more on that below).
A voter who moves from one county to another must re-register in the new county before the close of registration for that election in order to be able to vote, although the state constitution provides that a person may still vote for president and vice president via absentee ballot as a citizen of the United States. If a voter moves from one county to another after the close of registration, he or she can vote under his old address.
How to vote: Most people receive a sample ballot in the mail with the location of his local polling place. Anyone who doesn’t get a ballot and doesn’t know where to vote can find polling locations through county clerks or election officials or state Division of Elections website. Poll times may vary depending on the election, but the hours for voting in primary and general elections are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. No identification is needed at the polls in New Jersey for voters who provided ID upon registration. A voter signs the poll book and a “voting authority slip,” hands the slip to the poll worker, and steps into the machine and casts a ballot.
Unlike several other states, New Jersey does not provide for early in-person voting. However, New Jerseyans may vote by mail for any reason — prior to 2005, only those who were going to be out of state or unable to get to a polling location were allowed to cast “absentee” ballots.
Voters can apply for a mail-in ballot from the county clerk up to a week before an election — in 2014, this deadline is Oct. 28. Someone who misses that deadline can apply in person for a mail-in ballot up until 3 p.m. on the day before the election; that means the deadline this year is Nov. 3. A friend or relative may pick up a ballot for someone who cannot get one by going to the county clerk’s office, showing ID, and signing a certification saying he or she will deliver the ballot to the voter.
Those who are disabled or unable to read the ballot may bring someone with them into the voting booth for assistance.
In rare cases when a person’s eligibility to vote is in question, a person may cast a provisional ballot. This typically comes into play in four situations: the person who moves within the county close to Election Day; someone whose name is not in the poll book or whose registration is missing a signature; a person classified as needing to show an ID who comes to the polling place without one; someone who is marked as having asked for a mail-in ballot but who did not apply for one, did not receive one or did not return one. Provisional ballots on filled out on paper and put it in an envelope to be checked and, if valid, counted by county election officials the day after the election.
Primary elections vs. general and other elections: Anyone can vote for any candidates on the ballot — or write in someone else — in the November general election, and in any school or fire district elections.
A voter’s choice is restricted only in primary elections. A person registered as either a Democrat or Republican can only vote for those candidates running within his or her party. A person who is not registered with either party, known as unaffiliated, may declare a party on primary day and vote for candidates on that party’s ballot. Such voters will then be registered in that party. A voter already registered in either party who would like to switch sides during a primary may do so by filing a political party affiliation declaration form 55 days before a primary.
Challengers: Candidates or political parties can appoint people to be present at the polls on Election Day who can challenge a person’s right to vote on legitimate grounds — for instance, that the voter had moved out of state. If a challenger has reasonable grounds for denying a person’s vote, he or she must state them. The voter can then refute those grounds, for instance, by showing proper identification. The local district board decides the challenge.
Recourse: A number of groups are eager to help those who feel they are unjustly being denied the right to vote on Election Day, and cases may be brought before a judge to settle disputes. For instance, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey’s hotline (1-800-792-VOTE) is staffed while the polls are open and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey helps answer those calls.