With six-and-a-half weeks left before the election, both major political parties and interest groups are working to sign up more voters — trying to tip the scales in their favor or just get as many people as possible engaged in the process.
Last year, about 88 percent of those eligible to vote in New Jersey were registered, although fewer than two of every 10 people eligible actually cast ballots, according to an analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the state Division of Elections. So far this century, as many as 92 percent of those eligible were registered to vote. That was in 2012, the last presidential election year.
Presidential elections tend to draw the most interest in politics and the most voters. Already, the number of people registered to vote as of August 31 in New Jersey was up 4.4 percent compared with last November. The state has about 5.6 million people registered to vote — 36 percent as Democrats, 21 percent as Republicans, and almost 43 percent not affiliated with any party. People have until October 18 to sign up to vote in the November 8 election.
Last year, according to the ACS, close to 6.2 million New Jerseyans were eligible to vote, about 69 percent of all residents, and 5.4 million were registered.
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, termed the state’s 88 percent registration percentage “quite good,” but said the parties are still working to get even more people on the voting rolls.
“Both parties work to register new voters throughout the year,” he said. “It is typically easier to do in a presidential year because there is so much public interest, and when there is significant public interest the numbers can surge.”
For example, he noted, the Democrats increased their voter registration numbers in New Jersey to about 1.7 million in 2008, from about 1 million a year earlier. That same year, New Jersey Republicans increased their number to 1 million, from 800,000 the previous year. On the Democratic side, registration exploded in part because 2008 was the first year Barack Obama ran for — and was elected to — the presidency, and his candidacy attracted younger people.
“We are collaborating with county and local Republican organizations to reach out to residents new to New Jersey to ensure they are registered and able to make their voices heard in this year’s election,” said Rick Rosenberg, a spokesman for the New Jersey Republican State Committee.
Because New Jersey isn’t a battleground state — Hillary Clinton is widely expected to win the state, and only one congressional district is expected to be competitive — Dworkin said voter registration drives are not of prime concern to the party machines here.
“The efforts to register new voters are largely left up to individual party activists, community groups,” he said, adding that Rider has launched an initiative called #RiderVotes to encourage all students to register and vote. “In a state that will be competitive in November, such as Pennsylvania, aggressive voter registration is a core part of each party’s strategy to win.”
Once the registration deadline passes, the parties and interest groups will shift their focus to get-out-the-vote efforts, he added.
New Jersey has made it relatively easy for young adults and others to register when they get a driver’s license. People can also register at their county clerk’s office. Still, some legislators had hoped to make registering to vote automatic when one visited a state motor vehicles’ office. Gov. Chris Christie vetoed that bill (A-1944), last month, saying it would cost too much and invite fraud.
The percentage of those eligible who were registered to vote last year varied from county to county. In both Hudson and Cumberland, fewer than eight in 10 of those legally able to vote had registered, while more than 95 percent in Essex and Hunterdon were on the voting rolls.
A higher registration does not necessarily result in more votes, though. In 2015, Essex had the lowest voter turnout rate, with just 12.3 percent of those registered or 11.8 percent of all those of voting age, casting ballots. Cape May had the highest voting rate: 31.5 percent of those registered or 28.1 percent of all eligible.