LET THEM VOTE! Provisionally

State Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) on the floor today. Photo by Mark Bonamo.
State Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) on the floor today. Photo by Mark Bonamo.

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.

Eleven states plus the District of Columbia presently offer same-day registration and voting; allowing any qualified resident of the state to go to the polls on Election Day, register that day, and then vote.

The states with Election Day registration boast a significantly higher voter turnout. Since 2004, those states which allow for Election Day registration have averaged a 10 to 14 percent higher turnout than those that have a registration deadline.

The New Jersey State Legislature is currently deliberating over a set of bills called the “democracy act” which is designed to increase voter participation.

To be clear…New Jersey currently does have an Election Day voter registration process.

When a prospective voter walks into a polling site on Election Day and their name does not appear in the poll book, they are offered a provisional ballot. The provisional ballot serves two purposes: it is a paper election ballot and a voter registration form. So, if you use a provisional ballot and it is discovered you already were registered to vote, your voter registration is relocated to your new voting district and your vote is tabulated. If you use a provisional ballot and you previously were not registered to vote, you are entered into the voter registration system and are eligible to vote in the next ensuing election. However, your vote from the provisional ballot is not added to the tally of that election.

In most states, the voter registration deadline ranges from 8 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 provide time to verify voter information, input them into a database and print the poll books. 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, mandates that any new voter registration form needs to include the last 4 digits of a social security number or a driver’s license number so that the statewide voter registration system can determine eligibility and prevent a person from 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 their address with the county commissioner of registration, they are still eligible to vote on Election Day but only by using 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.

As stated earlier, provisional ballots are not counted immediately. Provisional ballots are brought to the county commissioner of registration and are investigated over a 2-day period to determine the voter’s eligibility. A recommendation is made for each provisional ballot and the commissioners of the board of elections count the ballots that are eligible. 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 believe 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 use a provisional ballot which provides election officer’s 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.

Let us compromise on the side of hearing the voices of newly verified voters.

Christopher J. Durkin is the Essex County Clerk LET THEM VOTE! Provisionally