Voter registration deadline Tuesday for NJ’s June primary
Are you hoping to help Democrats choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for a presidential nominee? Excited to press the button to clinch Donald Trump the nomination? Or perhaps register a protest by backing a former candidate still on New Jersey’s Republican ballot?
Step 1: Make sure you’re registered to vote — and do it by Tuesday.
Voter registration often drops between one year’s general election and the following year’s primary, except for years when the White House is on the ballot. This year has been no different: Voter rolls are up statewide by 96,000 over the last six months.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of interest in people getting registered for the first time because of the presidential primary,” said Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
New Jersey doesn’t allow same-day registration on the day of the primary. State law sets the eligibility deadline at 21 days before the election; with the primary on June 7, that makes the deadline May 17.
Voter registration forms are available in local libraries and municipal offices, and they can be found online through the state Division of Elections or the League of Women Voters. They can be mailed in (though make sure they’re postmarked Tuesday) or hand-delivered. Some county and local offices are staying open late Tuesday to accept registrations.
“New Jersey does not currently have online voter registration. You have to print the form out if you go online so you can manually sign it and mail it in,” said Burns, who said town halls are probably the most convenient option.
Step 2: Check your party affiliation to confirm your eligibility.
New Jersey uses a closed primary, meaning that people registered in one political party can’t vote in another party’s contest. The deadline for partisans to change their stripes this year was April 13.
“If you’re a Democrat, you can’t change to a Republican and the other way around. And if you’re registered as a Green, Libertarian, things like that, it’s too late to change your party affiliation for the primary,” Burns said.
“But the majority of people that we’re hearing from are unaffiliated voters that want to vote in the presidential primary, and they should know that they can vote and declare at the polls their party affiliation,” she said.
Unaffiliated voters not registered as a member of any party — the Democrats, Republicans or seven other smaller parties recognized by the state — can vote in a primary, though by doing so they have to declare their affiliation and join a party. But it doesn’t have to be for the long-term: People can then fill out a party affiliation declaration form after the primary and switch back.
Forty-eight percent of registered voters in New Jersey aren’t affiliated with a political party. Thirty-two percent are Democrats and 20 percent are Republicans. Burns said her group has seen a lot of people stay home from primaries they wanted to take part it because they didn’t know they were eligible.
“What we’re hearing most from are just people confused,” Burns said. “We see a lot with national elections because primary rules and election rules differ state to state. There’s a lot of coverage of other states, so people become confused about what the rules are in New Jersey. We’re just hearing a lot of people looking for confirmation about how they can participate.”
People can check whether they are registered on the Division of Elections website by simply inputting their names and birthdate. If they then create a username and password by providing more information, they can also find out their party affiliation and other details.
With this year’s race all-but-over, at least on the Republican side, the parties miss an opportunity for party building that can result from a competitive primary.
In 2008, New Jersey moved its presidential primary to February. One result was a surge in formerly unaffiliated voters signing up with a party – drawn in largest numbers to the Democrats, where the contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton drove huge turnout.
Between the 2007 general election and the 2008 primary election, Democrats added almost 518,000 people to their rolls. Republicans added 156,000. Many of them were already registered and chose to join a party to vote in the primary, but there was also a net increase of 155,000 registered voters.
That increase in voter registration continued through the 2008 general election. Between the primary and general elections in 2008, New Jersey added almost 400,000 voters to the rolls, including 100,000 Democrats and 25,000 Republicans along with 273,000 not affiliated with a party.
Since November 2012, the number of Democrats has dropped by 11,000 while the number of Republicans is up by 22,000. The number of unaffiliated voters has climbed by over 140,000.
If past patterns repeat, those numbers will surge between now and the presidential election in November. In the past four presidential election years, going back to 2000, an average of almost 297,000 people have registered to vote in New Jersey between the primary and general elections.