Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law on Tuesday that could add hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans to the voter registration rolls.
Under the new law, residents will automatically be registered to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or non-driver ID card at a Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) office, unless they specifically opt out. They could also be registered when they visit any state agency that collects basic biographical data needed to confirm voter eligibility, though it’s unclear which agencies will participate and when.
“We come at this from the point of view that there should be no barriers to registering to vote,” Murphy said during a signing event in Trenton. “Registering to vote should be simple and seamless.”
New Jersey is the 12th state to enact automatic voter registration. The new law could add roughly 600,000 state residents to the voter rolls, according to estimates from the Center for American Progress.
Murphy contrasted himself with President Trump, who made the baseless claim that millions of illegal votes were cast during the 2016 presidential election and created a now-disbanded voter fraud commission.
“We stand in stark contrast to President Trump and others whose only interest lays in restricting voting rights and suppressing voters’ voices,” Murphy said.
New Jersey lawmakers passed the so-called “motor voter bill” on Thursday, a week after the legislation was expanded to allow other state agencies to register voters. Assembly and Senate committees had approved the significant changes after little to no debate or public testimony.
Proponents say the bill will help boost voter participation in elections that have seen declining turnout in recent years. Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, spoke at the signing event and called the new law “a genuine expansion of our democracy.”
But Republicans have raised concerns about potential voter fraud. Former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a narrower bill in 2016 that would have only registered voters automatically when they got or renewed a driver’s license at MVC offices.
“Governor Murphy is trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist on the New Jersey taxpayers’ dime,” Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Middlesex) said in a statement. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the New Jersey Division of Elections, 92 percent of eligible voters in the state are already registered and able to vote in elections should they choose to do so. This unneeded ‘fix’ will cost the taxpayers of New Jersey millions of dollars and will undoubtedly lead to increased voter fraud.”
In addition to the MVC, any state agency that the secretary of state verifies “already collects documents that would provide proof of eligibility, including age, citizenship and residence address” would be able to automatically register voters, unless the residents choose to opt out, according to the law.
The new law takes effect on Nov. 1, but those automatically registered to vote won’t be able to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election. The deadline to register to vote in New Jersey is 21 days prior to any upcoming election.
There are nearly 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey, according to the Division of Elections.