Monday, October 31, 2016

MODERNIZING VOTER REGISTRATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY: Report on LWVNJ Conference


MODERNIZING VOTER REGISTRATION IN THE 21ST CENTURY



October 8, 2016



                I attended the NJ League of Women Voters’ program at Rider University, along with several dozen other LWV members from around the state.  The morning was devoted to updating us on current statistics for voter registration, efforts in various states to either improve or suppress voter registration, and discuss some of the reasons why this is such a challenging topic even in 2016.



                Our first speaker, Jennifer Clark, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, discussed a wide variety of nationwide statistics to illustrate how complicated it is to tackle this issue in various states.  Some of the more eye-opening data included:

·         Of the 12 states with the highest percentage of Latino voters in 2008, nine

of them have increased voter restrictions through state legislative efforts.

·         30 states have made major efforts to modernize voter registration systems since 2008

·         1 in 4 adults in the USA are not registered to vote

·         1 in 4 adults do not understand that their voter registration is not automatically

updated when they move, even if they stay within the same state.

·         39 states offer online voter registration (NJ does not, forms can be filled in but must

Be downloaded and printed out for manual signatures, then mailed)

·         23 states offer voter registration at DMVs and some other government agencies

Via electronic transfer (doing both at the same time)

·         16 states have same day registration either at the polling places or through local

Municipal clerk’s offices, to correct inaccuracies as well as register new voters

·         Only 5 states (OR, CA, VT, CT and WV) offer automatic voter registration at all

government offices (DMV, Medicare, SS, etc) with an opt out option, and are

completely paperless



We then heard from a great panel of three women – Elizabeth Matto, director for Youth Political

Participation Program; Mary Ciccone, attorney for Disability Rights NJ; and Analilia Mejia, Exec. Director, NJ Working Families Alliance.  Ms. Matto gave us a very interesting breakdown of potential voters in the “Millenial” generation (those born after 1981) with eye-opening statistics:

·         77 million potential voters, most ethnically diverse generation

·         Well educated, but economically vulnerable (burdened by student loan debt, contract jobs

that often don’t offer benefits, unable to save up enough in their 20s to be completely  independent from parents, etc.

·         Completely computer literate, also impatient with cumbersome processes of voter registration (too impatient with too many steps in the system)

·         Move around often, sometimes within the same year

·         No loyalty to brands, political parties, etc. – apolitical independent voters

·         Have often received little or no civics education in middle or high schools, unaware of why we pay taxes for government services, etc.



The second speaker outlined the challenges of registering more disabled voters, such as

transportation, some having inability to sign documents, etc.  This population includes many senior citizens (including those in assisted living), those born with disabilities, the mentally ill, etc.  Often, if then if they can use newly developed computer screen readers, they cannot register online, or have electronic signatures validated when they go to vote on election day.  The third speaker talked about efforts to reach out to the working poor, lobbying NJ legislators with the recent package of bills designed to update our voter registration processes like online registration, automatic registration at government offices, etc. which were supported by a bipartisan effort but vetoed by Governor Christie.  She emphasized that league members must interact with our state legislators to build up their resolve to pass this legislation again with veto-proof support.



Overall, the program was very empowering, and we were strongly encouraged to maintain ongoing contact with the LWV-NJ’s lobbyists and contact our local legislators to support our Voting Reform Platform:



1.       Online Voter Registration

2.       Automatic Voter Registration

3.       In-Person Early Voting (not uniformly offered in all NJ counties)

4.       Same Day Voter Registration

5.       Rights Restoration for People with Criminal Convictions in their Past

6.       Portable Voter Registration (automatic updating offered at polling places)



Barbara Ostroth

VP, Voter Services

Teaneck LWV

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