Last Day to Register to Vote in Time for Assembly Contests; Governor Wants to Make It Easier

Colleen O'Dea | October 15, 2019 | Elections 2019, Politics
New Jersey is among the states that still require registration at least three weeks before an election

Today is the last day to register to vote in New Jersey’s November 5 general election, which features all state Assembly seats, a statewide ballot question, county, municipal and school board offices and some local referenda. One state Senate seat is on the ballot.

Requiring those who are not already on the voter rolls to register at least 21 days before an election puts New Jersey among the majority of states that don’t allow registration at the polls on Election Day, although that majority is getting slimmer as more states move to permit same-day registration. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states that mandate voter registration before Election Day require it between 8 and 30 days beforehand.

Election Day registration is permitted in 20 states — though not yet fully implemented in New Mexico —  and the District of Columbia. Additionally, North Carolina allows for same-day registration but only during the early voting period, which for it begins about 2½ weeks prior to the election and ends on the Sunday before, not on Election Day itself.

Gov. Phil Murphy has called for same-day voter registration to make it easier for people in New Jersey to participate in the political process. A pair of bills pending in the state Legislature (A-1935/S-2842) seek to implement Election Day registration, along with allowing people to register online to vote, but neither bill has received a hearing yet.

The NCSL report on same-day registration states there is “strong evidence that same day and Election Day registration increases voter turnout, but the extent of the impact is difficult to conclude.” States that implement same day registration “usually see a boost in voter numbers.”

Effect of election policies on voter turnout

Nonprofit VOTE’s reports on turnout in the 2016 and 2018 elections elections found that, on average, turnout was 7 percentage points higher in states with same-day registration than in states like New Jersey that mandate earlier registration. Its research on 2018 found that seven of the 10 states with the highest turnouts allow for same-day registration, while eight of the 10 with the lowest turnouts cut off voter registration four weeks before the election.

“Despite the nationwide surge in voting, vast turnout differences between states remain,” the 2018 report states. “Election policies that made it harder or easier to vote were a major factor in those turnout differences, even more than political competition.”

New Jersey has taken other steps to boost registration and turnout. Last year, Murphy signed an automatic voter registration bill into law, so now everyone who gets a license or conducts other business with a state motor vehicles office is automatically signed up. People also can register at social services and other offices. And two months ago, lawmakers quickly passed and Murphy approved a measure requiring county clerks to automatically send mail-in ballots to anyone who used one to vote since 2016.

Both of those actions seem to have made a difference. The number of registered voters surpassed 6 million for the first time four months ago and as of the end of September, almost 6.1 million people were registered. That’s 3.5% more than at this time last year and 4.6% more than for the 2016 presidential election.

For this year’s June primary, about 14% of all those registered as Democrat or Republican cast ballots, compared to 10% in 2015, the last time the Assembly topped the ticket. The turnout of nearly 490,000 was 73% higher than the 2015 total. In the 2015 general election, close to 1.2 million New Jerseyans voted, representing about 22% of all those registered.

How to still register

Anyone who is not registered to vote in New Jersey can do so by filling out an application form, available either on the state Division of Elections website, or from a county election’s office or municipal clerk. State law requires that county election offices remain open tonight until 9 p.m. to accept registrations.

There are a few criteria a person must meet to be eligible to register to vote. A person must be:

  • A United States citizen;
  • At least 17 years old, though an individual cannot cast a ballot until after turning 18;
  • A resident of the county for at least 30 days before the election;
  • Not in prison or on probation or parole due to a felony conviction. (Legislation is pending that would change this, but currently a person loses the right to vote after a felony conviction and must reregister after having completed a full sentence, including probation or parole.)

The Division of Elections has a tool on its website that anyone can use to check whether he is registered to vote. New Jersey also has a toll-free voter information line for anyone with questions: 1-877-NJVOTER (658-6837).