Poll finds support for changes to N.J. voting laws

From The Star-Ledger

By Samantha Marcus

Two-thirds of New Jersey residents favor expanded early in-person voting and automatic registration at the Motor Vehicle Commission, according to a new poll from Rutgers University's Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

Nearly six of ten New Jerseyans support online and same-day voter registration, provisions included in the "Democracy Act," a bill intended to expand access to the ballot and boost voter participation.

The Legislature approved the act in June, sending it to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature.

The bill (A4613) also would require pre-election materials to be printed in more languages, a potential change supported by two-thirds of the 867 adults surveyed from July 25 to Aug. 1. The poll has a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.9 percentage points.

But while half of respondents thought the initiatives would increase voter turnout, 30 percent said it it could increase voter fraud. Another 9 percent suggested it might do both. Broken down by party, the majority of Democrats polled are confident the act will improve voter turnout, whereas more Republicans think it will increase fraud than think it will increase turnout.

Act sponsors do not expect Christie to sign the bill — "I think there's much more politics behind this than there is democracy," he said in June — but said they might push to put the bill on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment in 2016.

Backers seem to have public opinion on their side, poll results show.

"Even if Governor Christie vetoes the Democracy Act, public opinion for the for the state Legislature's side could translate into success for some form of the bill as a ballot initiative in 2016," said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling said. "And this solid support exists even though few know how poorly our state does on voter participation: a third of eligible voters turned out in 2014, and just 5 percent voted in the most recent primaries."

While New Jersey's voter turnout ranks near the bottom of the heap, 60 percent of adults polled put it near the middle.

Poll results also show support across the board was strongest among Democrats.

The majority of Republicans supported early in-person voting and automatic registration. But support among Republicans fell for same-day registration, and adults opposed to online registration and providing multi-language materials outnumbered those in favor.

"Voter registration has become an increasingly partisan issue over the past several election cycles, a reality reflected in these differences between partisans within New Jersey, Koning said. "Nevertheless, Democrats, independents and Republicans alike have a generally positive view on these reforms, and even Republicans are not wholly negative on their subsequent effect — a departure from the governor's own stance and his presumed future veto."

Support was also stronger among non-white residents compared with white residents and millennials over senior citizens.


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