A bill to allow 17 year-olds to vote in primary elections as long as they will reach the age of majority by election day passed in the state Senate Monday, and will head to Christie’s desk. Under current state law, 17 year-olds can register to vote before their eighteenth birthday, but not vote in state primaries. The bill advanced by a 31-8 margin.
Though the bill could face opposition from Governor Chris Christie, who has called other bills aiming to boost voter turnout political ploys or invitations to voter fraud in the past, Senate sponsors Nia Gill (D-34) and James Beach (D-6) argue that it would be only fair to make sure young voters are not denied participation in selecting which candidate gets onto the ballot.
“Young citizens who will be eligible to vote in a general election should have a voice on who gets on the ballot for that election,” Beach said. “This legislation will allow our youth to participate in primary elections, and will engage them in the civic process right at the start of their voting career.”
“When we encourage our youth to participate in the political process as they reach the legal voting age, we are helping them participate in their state and nation’s future,” Gill said. “Voting is every citizen’s most fundamental civic duty, and every step we take to improve access is worth the effort.”
Gill and Christie last clashed over the unsuccessful Democracy Act in 2015, which would have made New Jersey the third state in the country to roll out automatic voter registration. New Jersey ranks 39th in the country in both percentage of eligible voters who vote, and those who actually cast a ballot.
Assembly sponsor Andrew Zwicker has predicted that the bill could increase voter participation by tens of thousands of people.
“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.”