Push to add voters ahead of mail-in election

On National Voter Registration Day, advocates want more people involved

In the middle of a pandemic, roiled by social unrest, with economic uncertainty all around us we are now entering the final weeks of the presidential election. And all sides are gearing up on National Voter Registration Day, to add to the ranks of the registered. This year, so many ways to vote, creating more access but, surprisingly, more concern.

“I would say that there’s a heightened sense of urgency this year particularly because practices have changed, not just in New Jersey but nationwide. So I think when you have some changes to Election day practices, voter registration practices, it’s really important that organizations such as colleges and universities, or nonprofits really get the word out and really mount a public education campaign,” said Eagleton Institute of Politics professor and director of the Center for Youth Participation Elizabeth Matto.

That’s right. It’s going to be mostly vote by mail this year. Concern over the pandemic is seeing to that. That will make it easier for a lot of people and there re voter registration events around the state all day today. But it has also raised some concerns over ballot security, certainly flamed by the president’s rhetoric, but also by some incidents here in Jersey, where authorities found that ballots had been culled and separated either by design or by accident.

“It was pretty shocking to see that Sussex County found about 1,600 ballots a couple of weeks ago from the primary. They’d been misplaced. That kind of thing just completely turns people off and makes them think that there’s no confidence that every vote is gonna be counted,” NJ Spotlight reporter Colleen O’Dea said.

But, advocates push on. Voter registration efforts at University Hospital, at the Public Library and all over the place online. Pam Johnson heads the Anti-Violence Coalition in Jersey City. Voter registration is part of every demonstration she leads. For her, the struggle to convince young people that their ballots are their bullets is real.

“I see a lot of young revolutionaries out there, too, who are outright saying they will not vote in this election because these are the choices we have and this whole conversation about how Democrats have not served Black people and they’re taking advantage of our vote. I feel like it’s been a real big shift with our youth and it’s been very difficult,” Johnson said.

Even though Democrats outpace Republicans in registered voters in New Jersey, the GOP has had great success registering voters over the past two years, says chairman Doug Steinhart.

“We as Republicans have lost 108,000 registered Republicans every mid-term election going back 25 years, but since January 2018 we’ve actually added over 113,000 Republicans back, so the gap’s growing between Democrats and Republicans but at a much slower pace,” he said.

Steinhardt says there really is no substitute for one person in a voting machine, exercising their franchise. But observers like Professor Matto say there is no good reason to not be heard at the ballot box this year.

“You have the option of taking your mail-in ballot to your polling location on Election Day. You also have an opportunity to vote provisionally; there will be an opportunity for voters who for whatever reason didn’t get their ballot in the mail, you will still have that opportunity to vote via provisional ballot,” Matto said.

So in order to be heard, experts say you gotta do a little more research this year in order to get the facts, including this important nugget: The deadline for voter registration this year is Oct. 13.