Know where to vote? NJ law starts hotline and website to help
Lawmakers hope a phone number and website are better than a list of mostly irrelevant addresses in notifying the public where and when to vote in an upcoming election.
A new law changes the information counties must include in public notices about upcoming elections, requiring them to list a state database and local and county phone numbers where registered voters can be told the location of the their polling place.
Until now, state law required counties to publish legal notices in the newspaper four times a year letting people know a primary or general election is coming – and listing all the places where votes will be cast.
That’s information overload and mostly unnecessary, said Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, D-Middlesex.
“It doesn’t really tell you exactly where you are supposed to go to vote. And that’s all people really want to know is: Where do I go to vote?” Pinkin said.
“Currently, you get the sample ballot and on your sample ballot it tells you specifically where you’re voting polling place is,” she said. “But with the newspaper, obviously you can’t tell each individual where they go to vote, it just lists all the possible polling places in that district.”
Going forward, the public notices will skip the list of schools, town halls and fire stations in favor of listing county and local phone numbers where a person can find out where they are to vote, as well as the Division of Elections website where a look-up can be done for every address in New Jersey.
“It just eliminates that portion in the paper which isn’t really helping people because it’s not really identifying where they specifically can go,” Pinkin said. “So it’s just sort of modernizing it, making that information a little bit shorter.”
Shortening the legal notices will also save counties money.
“This legislation brings New Jersey into the computer age. A voter can now simply go to the county webpage and locate their polling location,” said state Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex. “It brings about efficiency while saving tax dollars.”
“This new law provides the added benefit of helping to save county taxpayer’s money by eliminating the need for boards of elections to publish long lists of polling locations that do not do the job of informing voters where they need to go,” said state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer.
Voter turnout in New Jersey isn’t what it used to be, notable exceptions like the 2018 congressional midterms notwithstanding. To the extent uncertainty about where to vote contributes to that, Pinkin said the new law can help.
“It’s every citizen’s obligation to vote. Hopefully they do because that’s your voice. Anything we can do to improve voter turnout,” Pinkin said. “But I think we all have an obligation to vote. A responsibility to vote. It’s a privilege to vote.”