Tag Archives: League of Women Voters of New Jersey

Voting Rights by Northeastern States

The following post was written by LWVNJ intern Susan Pagano

voting-reform-graphicGraphic by LWVNJ intern Jack Streppone

States in the Northeast have some of the most voter-friendly legislation in the country; however, this is not the case for New Jersey. New Jersey’s voting rights legislation is seriously lacking in comparison to other states in the region. Let’s take a look at how rights for New Jersey voters stack up against other states in the Northeast.

The one area where New Jersey has similar legislation to other Northeastern states is in regards to in-person early voting. Even in these cases, though, the legislation is not accessible enough to have a significant, positive impact on voters. Some states, like Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts, allow limited in-person voting during a specified time before Election Day where voters must request an absentee ballot and can either mail or bring their ballot to their local municipal clerk. However, in New Jersey, absentee ballots are received by county clerks, so in most cases, there is only one location for voters per county, as opposed to one location per town or city like in the other states. Expanding in-person early voting options to more locations adds flexibility for New Jersey voters, which increases turnout, reduces the administrative burden on election days, and allows for early identification and correction of registration errors.

Unfortunately, the similarities stop there. Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania are six of the 34 states (plus the District of Columbia) that offer online registration as a method for registering voters, whereas New Jersey’s voter registration system is entirely paper-based. Additionally, Connecticut and Vermont have enacted automatic voter registration, and Pennsylvania and New York are currently considering legislation to implement their own programs, as well. Eligible voters in these states would be automatically registered to vote (unless they opt out) whenever they interact with a government agency, like the MVC. Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Connecticut also offer same day voter registration, which has been shown to have a significant, positive impact on voter turnout. In New Jersey, voters must register 21 days before an election.

Another area of voting rights where New Jersey legislation is significantly more restrictive in comparison to other Northeastern states is in regards to voting rights for people with felony convictions. Maine and Vermont have the most inclusive legislation in the entire nation, where people with felony convictions never lose the right to vote and can vote while completing their sentence. Those with felony convictions in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania lose the right to vote while incarcerated, with automatic restoration after release. In Connecticut and New York, people with felony convictions lose the right to vote until completion of their sentence, which includes parole. In New Jersey, those with felony convictions lose the right to vote until completion of their sentence, which includes parole and probation. New Jersey has the strictest law regarding ex-felon voting rights in the Northeast.

Therefore, in an effort to increase voter turnout, improve accessibility to the ballot, improve efficiency and save money, and ensure voting rights are protected, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey supports voting reform initiatives, which include online voter registration, automatic voter registration, expanded in-person early voting, same day voter registration, and rights restoration for parolees and probationers.  These voting rights reforms will not only benefit the New Jersey voters, but they will also create more inclusive voting rights legislation that is in line with other Northeastern states. If you’re interested in helping pass these reforms, contact us at jburns@lwvnj.org.

 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A “***Flawless” Figure

The following was written by Becky Celestina, League Intern

3527cd41287ab9d66473e112dbd339c6e515ef38_1600x1200Though you may not know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by name, you may know her by voice; Beyoncé, in her popular song “***Flawless,” sampled a talk on feminism that Adichie gave. The feminist principles that Adichie discusses as well as her influence as a writer makes her a woman worth talking about this Women’s History Month.

Adichie was born in Nigeria, and moved to the United States when she was 19. She is an acclaimed short story and novel writer and has won a variety of awards for her writing. She has also given two TED talks, one about the concept of the “single story” and one on the importance of being a feminist.

In Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of a “single story,” she states that the idea of a “single story” flattens groups of people and values certain narratives over others. This concept of one story or one version of a story is a something we see all the time in movies, television shows, books, etc.

As a storyteller, Adichie defines this concept in relation to our predispositions about other people, specifically, saying that it, “[shows] people as one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” She says that:

“How they [stories] are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told are really dependent on power. Power is the ability to not just tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person”

Power dictates what stories we hear to the point that we expect people from other countries to fit the stories we hear about them. The reality, however, is that people cannot be compacted into such rigid and small boxes. Adichie calls for more diverse stories to be published as well as for more diverse voices to tell their stories. She says that the single story, “creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.” We need to hear many stories to avoid these incomplete stereotypes.

I admit, I found out about Adichie from Beyoncé’s song — I was struck by what Adichie spoke about in the sample (which came from her talk on why everyone should be feminists) and after watching both of her TED talks in full, I knew Adichie had an interesting perspective on feminism, gender roles and the value of diverse storytellers.

As someone coming from a media background, I’m constantly looking at films and television shows with a critical lens and after watching Adichie’s talk on the single story I started to see how problematic the single story is in practice. I would see it in television shows that rely on stereotypes of specific groups of people and in movies that never show anyone other than cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white people. I saw the single story in action.

The single story takes away what makes someone’s culture so valuable and interesting. Adichie writes about her life as an African and as a feminist; she’s telling another story, her own story.

I wanted to include Adichie in a blog post for Women’s History Month because she’s encouraging people to tell their own stories and take control of their identity. Adichie writes honestly and candidly, not feeling hesitant because her stories don’t conform to what people say “African literature” should conform to.

I am passionate about Adichie’s call for the expansion of the single story because, looking at my own life and experience with stories, I realize if I did not actively seek out diverse stories, I would never hear them. These stories fill in cultural gaps and help me to see people as real living beings with important lives, even if I’ve never met them.

So whether you diversify your exposure to stories through TED talks or Beyoncé songs, realize that every new story you hear broadens your sense of your own world. Adichie wants people to tell their own stories, and I think she’s pretty “flawless” for that.

My First Role Model: Christie Whitman

The following post is written by Megan Dunne, spring intern for the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

This is the second post in a series highlighting and celebrating female pioneers throughout history. Some of these women have been largely overlooked, others celebrated, but I feel that all of these inspiring women have made important contributions to the state of women today.

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Okay, so that’s a bit of a misnomer; my first role model was my mom. But right around when I was eight or nine years old, Governor Christie Whitman came to my elementary school and talked to us. This was the first moment I was aware of politics, and it’s pretty awesome that my first association of politics was with a woman. I often think back to the impression Whitman had on me, especially now as I am on the precipice of completing my Master’s Degree in Political Science.

Why did I think she was the coolest? Well, she was. Christine Todd Whitman was elected New Jersey’s first female governor in 1993, also making her only the 13th female governor in US history. Not only did she win, but she beat an incumbent—a rare feat in politics. As governor, she appointed many women to important posts, including the first female Chief of Staff, the first female Attorney General, and the first female Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. A Republican, Whitman cut income taxes, business taxes, and reduced the size of government. She was moderate on social issues and championed environmental causes.

Whitman won reelection but ultimately resigned in 2001 to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush. Currently, Whitman sits on a variety of nonprofit and corporate boards, started the Whitman Strategy Group, and was part of the initiative to bring the Super Bowl to New Jersey this year. She also wrote It’s My Party Too, a book supporting her vision of a Republican party that is fiscally conservative but socially tolerant.

All Christie Whitman had to do to inspire child-me was to show up at my school, smile, speak confidently, and hold the title “Governor.” I was a kid, I didn’t need to know anything about her policies or politics. I didn’t know what “Democrat” or “Republican” meant; come to think of it, I think I knew who Christie Whitman was before I knew who the President was.

The effect Governor Whitman had on me demonstrates the effect of female leadership: being there empowers others to aspire to be there. What I mean by this is that Christie Whitman taught me at a very young age that a woman can be whatever she wants. This woman was in charge of the entire state when my entire world was encompassed by my one-square-mile town.

I now know that my former idol and I would disagree on certain things if we ever were to meet again. But that doesn’t matter to me. She worked hard to ascend to where she did, and she brought along more strong women with her, paving the way for more women behind them all.

When I was a kid, I idolized Mia Hamm, Nala from The Lion King, and the Olsen twins. But I didn’t become a soccer player, an actress, or a lion (though it was a sad day when I realized that wasn’t possible). I went into politics, and in my job experience and my undergraduate and graduate courses, I’ve been surrounded by a healthy mix of men and women. So thank you, Christie Whitman, for pushing at that glass ceiling. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for you.

(Sources: http://governors.rutgers.edu/njgov/whitman/whitman_biography.php , http://www.christiewhitman.com/biography; Image Source: http://www.christiewhitman.com/biography)

Statewide Public Questions Analyses

As part of an effort to encourage informed participation, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund has posted analyses of the two statewide public questions that will appear on the November 5, 2013 ballot.

For each question, the League provides that question and interpretative statement as they will appear on the ballot, as well as background information and balanced reasons voters might wish to vote yes or vote no. The League has not taken a position on either question. Use the links below to read the full analysis of each question.

Public Question #1 – Constitutional Amendment to Permit Money from Existing Games of Chance to Support Veterans’ Organizations

Public Question #2 – Constitutional Amendment to Set a State Minimum Wage with Annual Cost of Living Increases

“This information gives voters a fighting chance once they are in the voting booth. Often ballot questions are complicated and voters appreciate the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision,” said Kerry Butch, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “Using our nonpartisan informational tools, voters can easily examine the public questions and cast an informed vote.”

Get Informed! Voter Guides and Ballot Questions

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund is dedicated to encouraging informed and active participation in government. As part of this mission, we have published a voters guide and ballot question analyses. We hope that these nonpartisan voters tools help you make an informed decision when you head out to the polls on November 6th.

Voter Guides

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund asked all N.J. candidates running for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives twelve policy questions. These questions cover an array of important issues including unemployment, clean energy, education, immigration and health care.

U.S. Senate candidate answers are available here.

U.S. House of Representatives answers are available here.       

Ballot Question Analyses

This year, there will be two statewide public questions on the ballot. One will ask if voters approve the “Building Our Future Bond Act” and the second will ask if voters approve an amendment to the NJ Constitution to allow contributions set by law to be taken from the salaries of Supreme Court Justices and Superior Court judges for their employee benefits.

To help voters understand these questions we have published an analysis of each question. This information includes the ballot question and the interpretive statement as they appear on the ballot, as well as helpful background on the issue, and balanced reasons a voter may vote yes and reasons a voter may vote no. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey does not have a position on either question.

Ballot question analyses are available here.

We hope that you find this information useful. If you have any questions, please contact the League of Women Voters of New Jersey at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) and be sure to check out our website  for other important voting information.

Why I Vote.

This is a guest post written by former LWVNJ intern, Christine Kaufman.

Why I Vote.

Voting is an untouchable privilege to millions of people around the world.  Just this year Egyptians finally got to vote in a presidential election that did not already have a clear cut winner.  70 year old Nadia Fahmy lined up with fellow Egyptian citizens, some who waited four hours, so she could vote for the first time in her life. Although some debate the fairness of our elections in the U.S., we are quite blessed to have the right to vote.  Americans spend so much time dwelling on what we do not have and forget to utilize the rights we were born with.

This is the first year I will be old enough to vote in a presidential election.  Unfortunately, I was born a few months late and was only 17 during the 2008 election.  In 2010, only 55.6% of eligible NJ citizens were registered to vote. Could it be that almost half of our population does not see the importance in voting?  Some of my friends would see that number and agree, everyone only has one vote and that one vote will not make much of a difference.  But what if everyone took their vote seriously?  If all of those non-believers came together and voted, they could easily change the outcome of any election.

I vote because I believe you cannot just sit back and complain about the government if you do not attempt to influence it.  I vote because this is the first year my younger brother is old enough to vote and I want to set a good example.  I vote because my father spends hours upon hours educating himself on current events since he takes his vote seriously.  I vote because my mother votes and because her mother had to earn the right to vote.  So let us all start taking our votes seriously.  Visit our website for more information on voting and how you can register to vote.

Fresh Meat: My Account of the League’s Fall Forum as the New Intern

This is a guest post written by LWVNJ intern, Emily Garland. 

Hello, there

On September 22, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey held their fall forum titled “After Citizens United: Democracy for Sale?” I was one of the roughly 115 attending this forum in the PSEG Conference Center in Edison, NJ. After an early trek up the turnpike I arrived at the conference center to help get things in order before everyone arrived. Many environmentally minded members had carpooled together so the attendees came in waves of chatting, joking and catching up. Eventually, everyone made it into the main conference room with plates or bellies full of the provided breakfast. It was time for the fall forum to start rolling.

Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, Kerry Margaret Butch, posing with the inspiring Montclair 3. from left,  Sammi Siegel, Elena Tsemberis, and Emma Axelrod

After the introductions, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey presented their Young Activist award to 3 girls from MontclairHigh School. These 3 young ladies petitioned to have a female presidential debate moderator. Through their civic engagement program at Montclair High School, they discovered that the United States had not seen a woman moderate a presidential debate in 20 years. Outraged, these 3 ladies rallied together and created an online petition on change.org and garnered over 180,000 signatures. In August, CNN’s Candy Crowley was announced as a moderator. This story was very inspiring, proving that no matter how young or “unestablished” you are, you can still make a difference. When asked to talk about their future goals and what they would like to see changed in the future, one replied “seeing more presidential debate moderators of color.” These aware, engaged, and active young women were very inspiring and a great way to kick off the start of our forum.

The Citizens United discussion was very interesting. One fact I found most astounding, pointed out by David Earley of the Brennan Center, was that since 2006, campaign contributions from outside groups have more than quadrupled! PAC fundraising has reached billion dollar levels. It was astounding to learn about how much special interest money has flowed into our elections.

Panelists for the discussion on Citizens United, from left, Jeff Brindle, David Earley, and Susan Lederman

Upon the conclusion of the morning discussion, it was time for lunch. At lunch, I was able to chat with some League members about how it felt to be the new intern and my plans for the future. It was also very comforting to talk to members about what some of their children did in post-grad life. Eventually the lunch crowd started thinning out and I pointed many attendees in the direction of the workshop they wished to attend.

Michele Jaker discussing women’s health and family issues.

I attended the Women and Family Issues Workshop, which is what I was most excited about. I am very passionate about reproductive rights and sexual health and find learning about it very interesting.  Bobbie Francis, long-time League member and chair of the ERA Task Force, National Council of Women’s Organizations talked about the history of how the League of Women Voters came to their pro-choice position. Michele Jaker, former executive director of Planned Parenthood of New Jersey, gave an interesting lecture about the status of reproductive health funding and fighting in New Jersey and the entire country. Jaker touched upon recent cuts to reproductive health funding, transvaginal ultrasounds, the importance of preventative care, and personhood amendments. Although it is hard to not become disheartened when learning about these measures against women, Jaker still ended the workshop on a positive note. She pointed out that while all these attacks on women’s reproductive rights are happening, people are noticing and fighting back. The most hopeful anecdote she provided was that a proposed personhood amendment in Mississippi failed to be passed by popular vote last year. If Mississippi cannot get a personhood amendment passed, it is highly hopeful that no state can get a personhood amendment passed.

Marisol Conde-Hernandez leading the immigration workshop.

Upon the commencement of that workshop, it was back to my post at the merchandise table and pointing attendees in the direction of the next workshop. After everyone had funneled into their respective workshop I wandered through the conference center to listen in on the filled to capacity Education workshop, and the Immigration workshop, which was also at capacity. I was able to hear an interesting sound bite about the use of the term “alien” and its dehumanization of the immigrant. Hearing that made me wish I could have heard and learned more. I’m sure any attendee could say that their knowledge was enriched by the workshops.

Bobbie Francis discussing board development.

I attended the more spacious Board Member Development workshop, led by Bobbie Francis. It was interesting to hear the different happenings and operations of the regional leagues. Since I am interning with the League on a state level, it was very cool to hear what happens on a regional level. It was great to see so many people, mostly women, coming together to figure out how they can get people to vote and how they can ensure that when they vote they are educated about their choice.

Upon conclusion of the final workshop, I returned to my faithful merchandise table to make any final sales and before I knew it, it was time to close shop and pack up. My day ended with me loading a platter of various sandwiches and pastries in my car. I would say it was a rather successful and exciting day.