By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Democratic leaders rolled out a bill they say would revamp and modernize the election system.
“It dates back to the 1900s. We are in the 21st century. And we want to do a lot of good things to make sure voter turnout and registration. We are 39th in voter turnout and also on voter registration. We can do better,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
The bill has 12 reforms, among them:
— allow for election day registration
— allow for online registration
— have automatic registration when one renews a driver’s license
— and keeping certain polling places open for two weeks prior to a general election.
The push comes on the heels of woefully low turnout in the recent Assembly primary.
“In 2015, New Jersey’s primary turnout was the lowest in 90 years — 5.1 percent of eligible voters turned out,” said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald.
The prospects for this November’s general election aren’t much better.
“In the Assembly race they’re predicting 22 to 25 percent turnout. One of the reasons why — it’s not because that they’re not excited about the Assembly — it’s that we make it too hard for people to vote,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
One kicker in the bill is that it would eliminate special elections to fill vacancies, like the October 2013 election in which Cory Booker beat Steve Lonegan to fill the late Frank Lautenberg’s Senate seat.
And remember when Gov. Chris Christie appointed his friend and fellow Republican Jeff Chiesa to fill that seat temporarily?
The bill would require any governor to fill a vacancy with someone of the same party as the departing official.
Some wonder whether that is aimed at Bob Menendez’s seat.
Should the indicted senator give up his seat, Christie might want to appoint himself to the U.S. Senate, and this bill would block that.
Which is why observers think that even if it passes, Christie would veto it.
“If the governor vetoes this, we have to talk about whether we take it to the voters,” Sweeney said.
“We spent zero time worrying about boxing the governor in in his presidential politics. Zero time,” Greenwald said.
Greater voter access is usually seen as aiding Democrats more than Republicans, though you couldn’t get an admission of that here.
“Why is anybody against making it easier for people to register to vote and for people to vote? There is no logical reason for that,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
Liberal interest groups support the bill.
“When you have an economy that is forcing parents, families to work two to three jobs, care for children, limiting participation in our electoral process in one short window — it’s counterproductive,” said NJ Working Families Executive Director Analilia Mejia.
Republican leader Jon Bramnick says he hasn’t seen the bills. Republican leader Tom Kean couldn’t be reached. But a reporter asked a cogent question of the Democrats. Might the public’s lack of interest have to do with the fact that only three of 40 legislative districts this year are even considered competitive?