By Kira Lerner
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed legislation Monday that would have added 1.6 million new voters to the state’s rolls and made New Jersey the third state in the country to adopt automatic voter registration.
After sitting on the “Democracy Act” for almost five months, the governor and Republican presidential candidate vetoed his second voting rights-related bill in three years, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Christie has previously said that he does not support making it easier for residents of his state to vote.
“In New Jersey, we have early voting that are available to people,” he said in June. “I don’t want to expand it and increase the opportunities for fraud.”
But Analilia Mejia, the director of New Jersey Working Families, which spearheaded the initiative to have lawmakers introduce the legislation, told ThinkProgress earlier this year that the bill would not be “reinventing the wheel.”
“Most of these things have been moved and adopted in other states successfully,” she said. “It’s just mind-bending that a governor of a state would be against every single one of his citizens having full ease and access to participate in the voting process.”
New Jersey currently ranks 39th in the country in both percentage of eligible voters who are registered and percentage of voters who actually case a ballot, according to NJWF. The state does not allow in-person early voting, but requires citizens who want to cast an absentee ballot early to apply for one at an election official’s office. New Jersey also does not permit online voter registration, something that is allowed in 33 other states.
The Democracy Act would have also solved another problem plaguing New Jersey elections — the need to accommodate non-English speakers. Currently materials only have to be printed in Spanish if 10 percent of the county or voting districts speaks it as their primary language, but the bill would require election materials to be made available to voters in multiple languages without other stipulations, according to NJ Advance Media.
NJWF said in June that if Christie vetoes the legislation, the group plans to bring the issue directly to the voters on the next ballot. The move wouldn’t be unique for New Jersey voters — most notably, they previously acted without the governor’s support to raise the minimum wage through a constitutional amendment.
California and Oregon are the only two states that currently have automatic voter registration but iVote, a group led by President Obama’s 2012 voter turnout director, has said it will spend $10 million on a push to make voter registration automatic nationwide.