Let Them Vote! Provisionally

By Christopher J. Durkin Can you imagine a state without a voter registration process? Well…stop imagining because that is how North Dakota has run elections since 1951. They like to say that their stable communities and small voting districts allow for election board workers to know who should be eligible to vote…and who shouldn’t be.

Nine states have some form of Election Day voter registration: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Connecticut which allows Election Day registration only for presidential elections.

The states with Election Day registration boast a significantly higher voter turnout. Since 2004, those states which allow for Election Day registration have had a more than 11% higher turnout than those that have a registration deadline.

Advocacy groups have filed court papers seeking a judge’s order that would institute Election Day registration in New Jersey. This would overrule the state’s legislative process that gave us a voter registration deadline.

In most states, the voter registration deadline ranges from 15 to 30 days. New Jersey’s voter registration deadline is 21 days before an election. In 2006, the New Jersey legislature knocked 8 days off the previous deadline of 29 days. The voter registration deadline was instituted to allow prospective voters to be entered into a database and to give some time for verification of voter information. The commissioner of registration downloads the file of registered voters and has the poll books printed so that on Election Day you can put your signature next to your registered name and address.

In 2002, congress passed the “Help America Vote Act”(HAVA) which in part, mandated that any new voter registration form needed to include the last 4 digits of a social security number or a driver’s license number so that the statewide voter registration system could determine eligibility and also protect from a person being registered to vote in more than one location. If a person failed to provide that information on the registration form, that individual would only be allowed to vote by showing proper identification to the board worker on Election Day.

If a voter has moved and failed to change his/her address with the county commissioner of registration, that person is still eligible to vote on Election Day but only on a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot(paper ballot) is used when a voter’s name does not appear in the poll book or if the board worker’s vote upholds a challenge to the validity of a voter’s eligibility.

Provisional ballots are brought to the county commissioner of registration and are investigated over a 2 day period to determine eligibility. A recommendation is made for each provisional ballot and the commissioners of the board of elections count the ballots that are eligable. State statute allows the County Clerk six days before certifying an election. Every vote in New Jersey is counted before the secretary of State will certify an election. (Not every state counts every vote)

I feel the best way to include those voters who would register on Election Day while protecting the security of our democratic process is to have those voters’s vote on a provisional ballot, giving time to determine their eligibility. Once a person votes on our electronic voting machine; that vote is permanent and could decide the outcome of an election before the validity of the voter is thoroughly determined.

Christopher J. Durkin is the Essex County Clerk Let Them Vote! Provisionally