It just got a little easier for voters to contact candidates for state and local offices in New Jersey. But the state still lags some of its neighbors, which provide an array of online tools to get in touch with candidates.
Gov. Phil Murphy last Friday signed into law S-1974, which requires all candidates for state, county, municipal, and school board seats to provide a working email address, in addition to a regular mailing address, when filing petitions to run for office. The measure is part of a broader group of bills, several of which remain pending, meant to boost voting in the state.
Sandra Matsen of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey called the measure “really a very small change with a big impact” when she testified in favor of the bill before a Senate committee last February. She indicated it should be easier to contact candidates using email than by sending a letter via snail mail.
Mail stacking up at PO
State law previously only required a candidate to list a post office address on the nominating petitions filed when seeking to run for office. While that used to be the candidate’s home address, it is just as likely today to be a post office box that may not even be located in the candidate’s hometown and which may be checked infrequently.
“Snail mail can be very frustrating and in 2018, almost everyone has email,” Matsen said. She noted that the LWV and other groups attempt to contact candidates across the state to get their positions on issues or to get them to attend candidate forums.
Jesse Burns, the league’s executive director, said she is “thrilled” by the new law.
“The League of Women Voters of New Jersey, along with the Good Government Coalition of New Jersey, championed this legislation because bridging the gap between voters and candidates is essential to democracy and improving voter turnout,” Burns said. “It can often be impossible for voters and nonpartisan organizations to find information about candidates, particularly at the local level. We applaud this change designed to make it easier for voters to reach out to candidates running for office so voters can be empowered to make more informed decisions at the polls.”
Bill musters some bipartisan support
The measure passed both houses of the Legislature with at least some bipartisan support, although there was some concern about protecting a candidate’s privacy. Matsen said that is easily solved by setting up a candidate or campaign email account separate from a personal email.
While this is a step toward greater transparency and accountability, it still leaves New Jersey’s election information lagging behind what nearby Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania provide on their election websites to help voters reach candidates and campaigns.
Delaware, for instance, includes a combination of some or all of the following for candidates: a mailing address that is not a post office box, phone number, email address, and website. Maryland’s candidates may use a post office box but they also provide email addresses and some also include a telephone number, as well as a website, Facebook page, twitter handle, and other online services like Instagram.
Pennsylvania’s Department of State provides the greatest transparency by far of New Jersey’s neighbors. It offers a searchable database that links to a page for each candidate. That page provides email and phone contact information and includes tabs that link to all the candidate’s filing petitions, any committees that they’re connected with, campaign finance reports.
The bill does not explicitly require the New Jersey Secretary of State to incorporate email contact information on the candidate lists it posts publicly, although doing so would be the easiest way to make that information available.
The prime sponsors are all Democrats: Sens. James Beach and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, both of Camden County, and Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker of Middlesex and Raj Mukherji of Hudson.
This was the second of five measures designed to increase public participation in elections to be enacted. Three months ago, Murphy signed the first, which automatically registers to vote all those who get a driver’s license or identification card from a motor vehicle’s office.
The other three bills, all of which were endorsed by Murphy during his campaign last year, are still pending:
S-589 would have the secretary of state create a secure internet site where those eligible could register to vote using an online form. Online registration is already available in 37 states. The bill passed the Senate largely along party lines last month and is awaiting action by the Assembly.
S-549 would require counties to offer early voting in person beginning 15 days before an election through two days prior. While there has been some early voting in the state, typically at the county clerk’s office, the legislation expands and sets specific parameters for the voting. The bill has cleared one Senate panel and is awaiting action by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
S-1218/A1521 would give a 17-year-old who registers to vote the ability to cast a ballot in a primary election if he would turn 18 by the date of the general election. It passed the Assembly in essentially a party line vote last April and now awaits final passage by the full Senate.