Joining a promising pro-democracy wave, a signature from Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday added New Jersey to the ranks of 11 other states and the District of Columbia that have now enacted automatic voter registration.
The new law requires the state's Motor Vehicle Commission to automatically register any eligible voter who applies for a permit, license, or ID card unless they opt out. It also expands the process to any state agency that collects proof of eligibility, subject to approval by New Jersey's Secretary of State—an added component that is widely praised by voting rights advocates but often left out of state programs.
"In New Jersey, we recognize our democracy is stronger when more people are given the opportunity to participate and when the residents of our state are empowered to be part of the democratic process," declared Murphy. He recently took the reigns from Republican Chris Christie, who repeatedly vetoed previous versions of the legislation.
The more eligible people who are registered to vote, the stronger our democracy will be.
Registering to vote should be simple and seamless. New Jersey will lead the nation in a whole-of-government approach in ensuring that voting rights are protected. pic.twitter.com/wOt8vfGYo3
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) April 17, 2018
Among the local groups that advocated for the law are the state chapters of the ACLU and League of Women Voters, as well as the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Representatives from the groups attended Tuesday's signing ceremony.
“We are building an inclusive democracy from the ground up right here in New Jersey, despite the racist, xenophobic, and dangerous policies being promoted by national leaders, including President Donald Trump," says @RyanPHaygood. #FromTheGroundUp #AVR #RobustDemocracy pic.twitter.com/KPiRzy5SZa
— NJISJ (@NJ_ISJ) April 17, 2018
Standing with our partners in the voting rights struggle proudly holding our pens at the automatic voter registration signing @NJ_ISJ @ACLUNJ @BrennanCenter @NJWFA. Today was just the beginning. pic.twitter.com/w377swMQbm
— LWV New Jersey (@LWVNJ) April 17, 2018
While voting rights advocates celebrated Tuesday's victory, they also set their sights on legislation to reverse the disenfranchisement of New Jersey residents who cannot vote due to criminal convictions.
Thanks to New Jersey @GovMurphy for taking steps to expand access to the franchise.
Now time to take action to restore voting rights for 94K NJ residents who are disenfranchised b/c they are on probation or parole, or imprisoned. Time to lift ALL restrictions to the ballot box. https://t.co/986n7jiyoK
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) April 16, 2018
"We must disentangle voting from our criminal justice system. NJ leads the nation in black/white racial disparities in prisons. If ppl serving time, probation or parole can’t vote, we’re disproportionately, consciously, systemically denying the vote to people of color" @AmolSinha pic.twitter.com/Dln2UBGiEa
— ACLU of New Jersey (@ACLUNJ) April 17, 2018
The developments in New Jersey come on the heels of a similar automatic voter registration measure that passed the Maryland legislature last month. Lawmakers in at least 15 other states have introduced automatic voter registration bills this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
"After years of Republican attempts to restrict voting rights, Democratic-controlled states are taking more aggressive steps to expand access to the ballot," Ari Berman wrote Tuesday for Mother Jones. "But the trend is not limited to blue states: Automatic registration has also been passed or implemented in red states like Alaska, Georgia, and West Virginia."