Voter registration bills advance

TRENTON – New Jersey voters could register to vote from their home computers under a proposal released from a Senate panel today.

The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee released several bills that relate to voter registration and the dissemination of sample ballots.

The committee merged S2168 and S2170, which permits the submission of online voter registration forms through a secure Department of State website and authorizes the use of a digitized signature from the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission database for online voter registration form approval.

“Why the current process requires unnecessary and costly hoops when everything elections officials need is already digitized is beyond comprehension,” said the committee’s chairman, Jim Whelan (D-2.) “Paperless registration is more accurate and more cost-effective. Registering to vote should be a seamless and easy process for every resident.”

By turning the entire process digital, the costs of processing each new voter registration would be slashed from 87 cents per form to 51 cents per form – a reduction of more than 40 percent, according to Senate Democrats.

Voter registration

The panel released legislation that proponents say would increase the access of voter registration forms.

The bill, S1631, requires voter registration forms be made available when applying for hunting, fishing or trapping licenses.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Steven Oroho (R-24) and Donald Norcross (D-5).

An amendment to the legislation requires any public agency or office must display, provide or collect voter applications if someone wishes to register to vote at that time, officials said.

Theresa O’Connor, the deputy superintendent of elections in Bergen County, raised concerns that the agency will collect any completed voter registration forms. She said, under the proposal, some people would be able to register to vote at retail stores.

O’Connor said she was skeptical whether retail sales clerks would properly mail the ballots.

“Our main concern is that we don’t have commercial agencies … assuming responsibilities that we don’t think belong to them,” she said.

No amendments were added to the legislation during the committee hearing, however, lawmakers indicated they would be comfortable with adding a provision that would require the voter to mail the register form.

E-mail sample ballots

The committee also released legislation that would allow voters to have access to sample ballots via the web.

The bill, A2929/S363, provides primary and school election sample ballots to be sent to registered voters by e-mail if requested by the voter.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. James Beach (D-6) and Donald Norcross (D-5).

Opponents to the legislation expressed concern that e-mail addresses are not physical addresses, saying county clerks would have no idea where the voter actually resides. They said local officials will be in the dark whether residents actually live at the address where they are registered to vote.

The officials argued sample ballots serve as another safety measure to ensure the integrity of voter registration, saying, for example, if a sample ballot is returned to the county clerk’s office then local officials know there is an issue with that person’s voter registration.

“If we don’t get notice, then the same ballot is the primary tool (in knowing where people reside,)” said O’Connor, explaining if residents don’t update their addresses themselves, then local officials are largely kept in the dark.

The bill would take effect in the spring of 2013.

“I’m not sure the savings here is worth the potential foul-up of the whole system,” said Sen. Sam Thompson (R-12), echoing similar concerns mentioned by Sen. Barbara Buono (D-18).

A recommendation was made to partner with the U.S. Postal Service that would allow the state to confirm whether a voter moves. Advocates for that amendment argued it would make the process even more secure than its current form.

Beach, who attended the committee hearing, said he would agree to add the language to the bill.

“I don’t think this is (too) much of a problem,” Beach said.

The bill was released from committee from a unanimous vote with Thompson abstaining.

Buono said she agreed to release the bill from committee, though would vote against it on the floor without the amendment – Beach said he too would vote against it on the floor without the amendment.

Voter participation

The committee also released legislation that would allow voters to receive mail-in ballots without having to consistently request the ballots.

The bill, S1682, permits registered voters to receive mail-in ballots automatically for all elections under certain conditions. The bill would essentially remove the requirement that voters request mail-in ballots every time there is an election.

Beach, the bill’s sponsor, said the bill would increase voter participation.

“It’s an effort to making it easier for people to vote,” he said.

The bill would also limit the number of sample ballots sent to a residence.

Under current rules, numerous identical sample ballots are sent to the same residence if the household has more than one registered voter. The bill would reduce the number of sample ballots to reduce duplicates, according to the bill.

The bill was released 3-1 with Thompson voting against the measure and Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-8) abstaining.

Voter registration bills advance