NJ to register voters automatically at MVC, parole & welfare offices
State agencies will likely start automatically registering people to vote when they do things such as apply for driver’s licenses by year's end, under a bill passed Thursday by both houses of the Legislature.
The bill (A2014) was passed 24-13 by the Senate and 50-23 by the Assembly, with every Democratic lawmaker in attendance in favor and every Republican opposed. As a candidate, Gov. Phil Murphy said he would sign the bill, which then-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed in 2016.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, said the proposal “is a bill to drive democracy” for little cost.
“It seems to me that we’re opening up democracy and ensuring that the discordant tones which make up this great state are heard even louder and turned into a symphony from the cacophony that many would argue it presently is,” Schaer said.
Republicans were initially split on the bill when it applied only to the Motor Vehicle Commission. But they uniformly opposed it after it was amended last week to cover any other state agency that collects documents regarding a person’s age, citizenship and address.
Republicans note that would include parole and welfare offices, among others. They say it opens the system up to voter fraud and people being registered multiple times. And they say makes it potentially expensive, given the ancient technology used by many state agencies.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr., R-Union, said 92 percent of eligible voters are registered already.
“The bill is resolving an issue that doesn’t exist. We have extraordinary access within the system. We have a huge turnout problem,” Kean said. “… This is a very expensive fix that is not going to work, can increase fraud in many different ways, whether intentionally or not intentionally.”
“Voter fraud in New Jersey is real. It happens more than you know,” said Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, a former county clerk. “Expanding voter registration without increasing staffing will undoubtedly cause overworked employees and understaffed agencies to let instances of voter fraud slip through the cracks.”`
Currently, applicants seeking a driver’s license are offered the opportunity to register to vote. Under the bill, people would be automatically registered unless they specifically decline.
The state Motor Vehicle Commission would then send that information to the secretary of state, which oversees the Division of Elections.
Applicants for driver’s licenses or non-driver identification cards would be told the voter eligibility requirements and the penalties for false registration and illegal voting, and they would have to affirm that they meet those requirements.
“In those cases where that eligibility is not correct and inadvertently wrong, the name would be simply stricken,” Schaer said.
A person who is ineligible to vote but becomes registered will not be deemed to have committed a crime, unless they knowingly and willfully make a false statement.
Murphy, as a candidate, said five state have automatic voter registration at their motor vehicle agencies.