In Effort to 'Strengthen' Democracy, New Jersey Enacts Automatic Voter Registration

Joining a promising pro-democracy wave, a signature from Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on Tuesday added New Jersey to the ranks of 11 other states and the District of Columbia that have now enacted automatic voter registration.

The new law requires the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission to automatically register any eligible voter who applies for a permit, license, or ID card unless they opt out. It also expands the process to any state agency that collects proof of eligibility, subject to approval by New Jersey’s Secretary of State—an added component that is widely praised by voting rights advocates but often left out of state programs.

“In New Jersey, we recognize our democracy is stronger when more people are given the opportunity to participate and when the residents of our state are empowered to be part of the democratic process,” declared Murphy. He recently took the reigns from Republican Chris Christie, who repeatedly vetoed previous versions of the legislation.

Among the local groups that advocated for the law are the state chapters of the ACLU and League of Women Voters, as well as the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. Representatives from the groups attended Tuesday’s signing ceremony.

While voting rights advocates celebrated Tuesday’s victory, they also set their sights on legislation to reverse the disenfranchisement of New Jersey residents who cannot vote due to criminal convictions.

The developments in New Jersey come on the heels of a similar automatic voter registration measure that passed the Maryland legislature last month. Lawmakers in at least 15 other states have introduced automatic voter registration bills this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

“After years of Republican attempts to restrict voting rights, Democratic-controlled states are taking more aggressive steps to expand access to the ballot,” Ari Berman wrote Tuesday for Mother Jones. “But the trend is not limited to blue states: Automatic registration has also been passed or implemented in red states like Alaska, Georgia, and West Virginia.”

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