Bills to Increase Voter Turnout Clear Senate Committee

Zwicker, left, sponsor of a bill to allow 17 year-olds to vote in primary elections.

Zwicker, left, sponsor of a bill to allow 17 year-olds to vote in primary elections.

Two bills to drive voter turnout advanced in committee Thursday, and will go on to the Senate floor. The first, originally sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16) in the lower house, would allow 17 year-olds to vote in primaries when they are on the cusp of reaching eighteen before the general election. While that bill cleared committee in a unanimous vote, a second to offer automatic voter registration with new and renewed driver’s licenses passed by a narrower 3-2 margin.

Zwicker testified at the hearing of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, citing New Jersey’s existing statutes and the fact that 17 year-olds can already register before they reach the age of majority.

“There are over 20 states around the country that have a similar law in place,” Zwicker said. “In New Jersey, this will affect approximately 23,000 New Jerseyans every single year.”

The second, sponsored by Senator Joseph Vitale (D-19), would have voter registration become an automatic process in which voters would be presented with a single form for applying for a driver’s license and registering for the next election. Under the legislation, applicants would have to opt out of the automatic process.

Explaining why he was not prepared to support the bill, Senator Steve Oroho (R-24) pointed to the potential cost of implementing the system and a provisions that would clear ineligible voters, like convicted felons, of wrongdoing if they vote after being automatically registered.

Oroho said the bill “assumes the fact that people will become registered who should not be allowed to vote, so that as a result, they added a provision saying that they cannot be charged.

“That caused me a lot of concern,” he said.

Senator Sam Thompson (R-12) also opposed the measure, saying that registration should be a matter of choice for voters. He and a representative from the state board of elections argued that the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission already does enough by presenting applicants with both driver’s license renewal form and a voter registration form on site.

Saying that the the additional clerical work of introducing a new two-in-one form should not preclude a simpler registration process, chairman Jim Whelan (D-2) argued for the measure.

“This is being done for the voting public, not for their convenience but for the convenience of the voting public,” Whelan said.