The voter turnout for New Jersey’s November gubernatorial election was the lowest since the days of prohibition, coming in at less than 40 percent. The number of voters casting ballots in the Senatorial special election was equally as dismal.
To bring voters back to the polls, New Jersey lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it easier for voters to cast their ballots by mail. Under Assembly Bill No. 1336, registered voter will be able to choose to vote by mail-in ballot in all future elections or in future general elections only.
Under current voting law, a registered voter can choose to vote by mail in ballot in all future general elections, until the voter notifies the county clerk that the voter no longer wishes to do so or unless the voter fails to vote in the fourth general election following the general election in which the voter last voted.
The proposed legislation would also allow any person who appears with a mail-in ballot at the appropriate polling place to vote in person using the same voting machine used by other qualified voters at that election after surrendering the ballot to a designated poll worker. Current New Jersey voter eligibility law only allows such voters to cast a provisional ballot.
“Providing this option to voters is essential to ensuring that all those who want to participate in the election process can and in a way that is convenient for them,” said Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “This legislation would allow voters to choose how they will cast their votes in all upcoming elections without having to worry about filling out an application for a mail-in ballot every year or election.”
On a broader scale, expanded mail-in voting is just one of the tools that states around the country are considering to encourage voter participation. Other options include moving Election Day to the weekend, allowing all voters to vote in primary elections, and expanding early voting.
While altering the timing and method of voting is a good start, the problem may be more about disenchantment than semantics. The polarized political climate has certainly taken its toll, with voter turnout at decreased levels throughout the country. Unfortunately, until voters feel confident that their vote will make a difference, they may be content to stay on the sidelines.