Murphy signs automatic voter registration bill

Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature made New Jersey the twelfth state with a “motor voter” law. Now, residents who go to Motor Vehicle agencies for driver’s licenses, renewals or permits will automatically get the option to register to vote, unless they decline.

“We come at this from the point of view that the more people who are eligible to vote, the stronger our democracy will be and the stronger our communities will be. We come at this from the point of view that registering to vote should be simple and seamless,” Murphy said.

“The bill makes a lot of sense,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “The information that election officials need to verify a person’s eligibility and voting precinct are already contained in the paperwork that the agency’s dealing with.”

“Motor voter” registration was not a bipartisan measure, getting zero Republican votes. It’s not unexpected in a blue state, where registered Democrats already outnumber Republicans two to one. Murphy and other Democrats at Tuesday’s ceremony said New Jersey needs to enact even more voting reforms.

“We must bring voting into the 21st century with Election Day registration, online registration and early voting so that people are not denied their fundamental right to vote, because like so many of us, they lead busy lives,” said ACLU New Jersey Executive Director Amol Sinha.

“We stand in stark contrast to President Trump and others, whose only interest lays in restricting voting rights and suppressing voters’ voices,” Murphy said.

But Republicans claim valid concerns over how the new law will be implemented, especially since it eventually will expand automatic voter registration through 17 other state agencies once those departments gear up. They say 92 percent of New Jersey voters are already registered and they foresee problems.

“Considerable amount of voter fraud, ineligible voters voting, etc., and you may well end up, again, with duplications. Person changes their address, it may end up they’re registered here and registered over there,” said Sen. Sam Thompson.

“The only thing that automatic voter registration does is it changes how the registration opportunity is presented,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Project at NYU School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. “A person is going to have to attest under penalty of perjury that they are being truthful in all of their answers and they are going to specifically get asked if they are eligible and under what sort of circumstances.”

Murphy, who cancelled a press availability Tuesday, made a beeline for the door and ignored reporters’ shouted questions.

More voting legislation is in the pipeline. A bill sponsored by Assembly Democrat Andrew Zwicker would let 17-year-old residents vote in the New Jersey primary if they turn 18 by Election Day in November. That bill has already cleared an Assembly committee.