Tag Archives: voting

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.

 

Why I Vote

The following is written by Paul Barudin, League Intern.

Possibly our first really important influence as to why we vote is our parents. From an early age they teach us about our life, how to live it, and how to shape it into what we will ultimately be living in. From learning to drive, to making food, to voting, our parents help us to define who we are, what we think and more importantly, why we think those things, even if we happen to disagree. Guy Barudin is my father as well as a managing director of Terrapin Partners, LLC and a portfolio manager at Terrapin Asset Management, LLC.

We keep in frequent touch and talk often. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind answering a few of my questions, especially with November 4th on the horizon, I thought I would try to get his insight as to his thoughts and perspectives about the vote.

Guy BarudinWhen was the most recent time you exercised you’re right to vote?
Personally, I voted in the last presidential election in 2012 and in a couple of local NJ elections since then. I didn’t vote in the 2014 primaries but expect to vote this November.

When you cast a vote, what does it feel like to you?
When I walk into a voting booth physically or mark an absentee ballot, I remember my parents and all the people I know who served in the armed forces. I think of all the challenges people have around the world simply trying to vote in countries wracked by war. I’m proud to be able to vote. I get a little emotional.

When you were registered to vote (for the first time) do you remember what it felt like?
Actually, I don’t remember – it was a long time ago – but it wasn’t long after the Vietnam War ended for the US and I had to fill out some draft papers at the same time. It was a little scary, but also felt like the first “grown up” thing I’d done.

Are you more likely to vote in certain kinds of elections (local, statewide, national, referendums)?
I’m definitely more likely to vote in a local election where there is an issue I find important, and for congress and senate elections. If I think that a competent person is running and they aren’t being challenged by a dummy, I’m less likely to vote.

Do you think it’s important for people to vote? Explain why.
The very nature of our towns, our counties, our states, and our country, relies on people being knowledgeable about facts and giving voice to their opinions in ways that effect leadership. This means taking time to go to meetings, to stay informed about current events. It means maybe even to serve on committees or hold office on everything ranging from local school and town groups all the way up to groups involved in national or international issues. It’s about taking an active role in our lives, not just sitting back and going along for the ride. Our votes are one way we participate in our public lives. In the US, we have the right to vote because of great things previous generations did. We should vote to have a voice in our own lives and to honor our history and the sacrifices made by Americans who came before us.

Do you see your vote impacting your community?
Yes – absolutely. School board elections and town council elections have direct effect on the quality of our streets and towns. State and county elections lead to the management of things as tangible as road improvement and park services, school curriculum, local taxes. To not vote is to put control of our lives into the hands of other people with whom we may or may not agree.

When voting season comes around, do you ask friends and family if they’re going to vote as well, or do you keep it to yourself?
I’m a nag – I remind people they should vote. I remind them they can request absentee or advance ballots if they aren’t sure they can get to the polls physically. Probably my friends and family think I’m annoying.

Voting: A Family Affair

The following blog post is written by Jasmine Boddie, LWVNJ intern.

Boddie FamilyIt was Election Day of 2012 at 6:00 am in the Boddie household. I was peacefully asleep when the sound of a knock on my door echoed throughout my room. All I heard next was my mother’s voice stating, “It’s time to go vote.” I sprang out of bed as fast as possible and flew downstairs ready to go. Already waiting was my father and older sister Brittany. Of course the youngest of the bunch, Cortnee was the last one ready. Finally, we were ready to go to the polls. The five of us plus our dog Fancie walked down the street toward the fire station, our polling place. We each placed our votes. However, Cortnee could not because she wasn’t of age yet. This was the first time I was able to vote since I had turned 18. Now in the year 2014 we are all eligible to vote.

My family and I were extremely excited about this election. So, my mother had an idea that we should all go to NYC to watch the voting results. We all bundled up tight and went to MSNBC studios to watch. We got to take pictures wearing all types of gear in red, white and blue. After, the election was decided the streets of NYC exploded with excitement. There were huge screens everywhere with the President’s picture on it. At around this time we were ready to head back home because we were frost bitten by then.

Voting in my family has always been a family affair. From a very young age my sisters and I were exposed to the world of politics. The news and political debates were constantly on television in our house. Many people in my community do not vote at all. They feel as though one vote won’t change anything or make a difference. However, if everyone has that mentality, that one vote that wasn’t cast turns into hundreds of votes.

I vote not only for myself but for the African American community as well. We weren’t always given the right to vote in our history. I tip my hat to those individuals that have come before me and fought for the privilege that many take for granted. I vote for the women that have passed on that were never given the opportunity to express their political views. I will make sure to keep my families voting traditions alive when I pass them on to my children. This way we will have instilled in generation after generation the importance of voting.

Why I Vote

The following is written by Liz Huang, LWVNJ intern.

Liz HuangGrowing up, I remember learning about the extensive history of voting in the United States in my classes, and watching the adults around me vote in the general and primary elections. However, one of my most vivid voting memories was the first time I actively contributed to the voting process. At the time, I was only a sophomore in high school.

In 2008, through a United States history class I was taking, my classmates and I became student volunteers for the local League of Women Voters of New Jersey in our town. I was almost 16 years old, and I went to senior classrooms with my peers to help senior high school students complete their Voter Registration forms. Our goal was to register as many seniors at our high school to vote for the 2008 Presidential Election that was just around the corner. It was a great experience being able to engage and contribute to the overall voting process, especially during a Presidential Election year.

When I turned 18 years old in the end of 2010, I had just missed Election Day by a few weeks. It was disappointing, but in the grand scheme of things, it was eye opening to realize that I would be able to cast my vote in all future elections beginning in 2011.

I vote because I want to assert what I believe in and make a difference. Voting allows me to express my personal opinion on issues that affect everyone: education, health services, environmental issues, etc.

I highly encourage every individual to exercise their right to vote! And as often as they can. There are plenty of nonpartisan resources available to engage and empower voters to make informed decisions. If you cannot vote in person on an Election Day, there is always the option to vote via a “Vote by Mail Application.” Every opinion- younger and older generations alike- matters. Go out there and let your voice be heard. Make a difference.

Civics 101: Voting

The following blog post was written by Vishali Gandhi, LWVNJ summer intern.

The United States was founded upon principles of democratic government and freedoms, among them the right to vote for representatives in government. However, voting was not always universal. Voting rights were initially reserved for only white, property-owning males, but as the country grew and progressed, suffrage (the right to vote) expanded to include non-land owners, people of color, and women. While requirements to register differ according to state, in order to vote in New Jersey you must be a citizen of the U.S., 18 years of age by the time of the election, a resident of NJ for at least 30 days prior to the election, and you cannot be serving time in jail or on probation or parole for a felony.

In order to register to vote, you must complete a Voter Application form and either mail it or hand it in to either the Commissioner of Registration or Superintendent of EVotelections, depending on your county. You can check to see if you are registered and where you are registered through the Division of Elections website, or by calling your county’s Commissioner of Registration or Superintendent of Elections. You must register to vote at least 21 days before the date of the election in order to participate in that election.

General elections, including elections for the President, Governor, members of Congress, state legislators, and some county and municipal officials, are scheduled for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November during a year in which an election is due. Primary elections, during which parties nominate a candidate to run during the general election, are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June. New Jersey has closed primary elections, meaning that only voters who have registered with a party may vote in that party’s primary election (party affiliation can be declared when initially registering to vote on the Voter Registration form or can be declared or changed by filling out a Party Affiliation Change form). Municipal elections are generally held with the General Elections. However, some municipalities hold nonpartisan elections (in which officials do not affiliate with a particular party) on the second Tuesday in May.

The process of voting is relatively simple: once you enter the voting booth, you will see a screen on which there are options for each position that must be filled (you will receive a sample ballot in the mail before the election so you can familiarize yourself with the layout of the ballot beforehand). Before submitting your ballot with your choices, you can change your decision as many times as you like. Once the ballot has been submitted, however, it is final and cannot be changed. If you have any questions or concerns, poll workers are available to aid in the process.

VP of Advocacy Nancy Hedinger answers voter questions through hotline

LWVNJ VP of Advocacy Nancy Hedinger answers voter questions

In addition, you can call the League of Women Voters of NJ at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) or contact@lwvnj.org with any questions, concerns, or comments. Lines at polling places are known to get very long, especially during particularly important elections such as general elections for the Governor or President. By law, if you are in line at your polling place when the polls close, you have a right to vote. In New Jersey, polls are open from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

If there is trouble with your registration, you may be asked to fill out a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is a paper ballot that is administered in the following cases:

  • If your registration information is missing or is not complete in the poll book
  • If you moved from your registered address to another one in the same county and did not re-register at your new address
  • If you are a first-time voter and when you registered to vote you did not provide proper identification or the information you provided could not be verified and you did not bring your ID on Election Day (for your provisional ballot to be counted, you have until the close of business on the second day after the election to provide your county elections officials with the required ID information)
  • If you requested a vote-by-mail ballot but you never received it

Provisional ballots are counted only after they have been verified by the county’s Board of Elections.

Voting is a fundamental right and is vital for sustaining a democratic system, so it is very important to be aware of your rights when you go to vote. For first-time voters, familiarizing yourself with the ballot as well as knowing what to expect can be very helpful. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey has a wealth of information on voting rights, important dates and upcoming events, as well as a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions” page to help keep you informed.

#SOTU2014: Why Bother? It matters!

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

2014-SOTU-BingoBoards_0

Play along with LWV SOTU Bingo!

I don’t have to tell you that we are witnessing an age almost unrivaled in partisan politics and government gridlock. Pick your poison among the various pundits the 24-hour news networks and the current political climate will be blamed on a whole host of factors. It feels like there’s a whole lot of talking and not a whole lot of doing.

So, as the State of the Union address approaches, why bother watching it? Isn’t it just a formality anyway?

I argue that given the current state of our union, it couldn’t be more important to watch. Here’s why:

1. It is uninterrupted.

Other than dozens of applause breaks in the chamber (which, by the way, does set my teeth on edge), this speech will be uninterrupted. No leading questions, no snide remarks, no commercials, nobody cuing the music to hurry him off stage. Just the President speaking about where we are, and where we can go next.

2. It isn’t a stump speech.

President Obama is in his final term. Since he is not trying to get elected again, he is not trying to woo voters. He will talk policy, including addressing issues originally on his election (and reelection) platform that he hasn’t had much success with yet; that is, immigration and climate change. In this sense, this year’s State of the Union Address presents the opportunity for the speech to return to its original intent: “He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

3. The media will be cropping and splicing it immediately…

…so make sure you see it in its original context. A speech is an entire body, not a series of disjointed statements, and these edits can be the equivalent of Photoshopping an image into something entirely different than what it is in reality. Before the soundbites are distilled and spin attached to them, make sure you understand the nature of the discussion. The only way to do that is to watch the speech.

4. Hold our representatives accountable.

With the State of the Union being a policy map or forecast, we will hear what President Obama hopes to do. As citizens, we have a right to have our voices adequately represented in government. With rights come obligations, and in this case, the obligation is this: If you disagree with what President Obama maps out, contact your representative and tell them. Likewise, if you’re thrilled with what he proposes, let them know. Representatives and Senators wouldn’t be in a position to make these decisions if we didn’t put them there, so our opinions matter a great deal to what they will do.

Find your representative’s contact info here.

5. Democracy works best when we talk about it!

And I don’t just mean by shooting emails to your government reps. An equally important facet of our democracy is an informed citizenry, and one way to be an informed voter is to watch this address tonight and talk about it with the people around you—coworkers, classmates, significant others. The Founding Fathers relished debate with their peers as a means to make the best decisions when voting and maintain sound logic in government decision making. Today, this informed yet informal debate is easier than ever to access: tweet about it using #LWV and #SOTU to be a part of the greater discussion!

There is a lot of discontent among the people about what is going on in Washington these days. Voting is one critical way to do something about it, but not the only way. Be an engaged citizen, watch the speech and talk about it. The State of the Union Address presents us with an opportunity to use our power as citizens in our democracy, use it!

Finally, use this moment of inspiration to be civically engaged all year, not just on one day.  Join the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, join our conversation, and use your voice to affect politics big and small. It is our government, engage it!

Tune in to watch President Obama’s 5th State of the Union Address, Tuesday, January 28, 2014 at 9:00 pm EST. Join the conversation using the hashtags #SOTU and #LWV

Join the League as we honor Hurricane Heroes

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey will hold a cocktail reception and awards ceremony honoring Hurricane Heroes on May 3 at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village. These individuals and organizations worked tirelessly to ensure that New Jersey voters could participate in the 2012 General Election during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

“The destruction cause by Hurricane Sandy could have been devastating to our general election process,” said Toni Zimmer, President of the League. “There were 800 polling places initially without power, and thousands of voters were displaced. Our state is made up of 565 individual municipalities, with just as many local municipal clerks, yet somehow they all managed to work together with county and state officials to assist many of the 5,4 million registered voters of New Jersey whose opportunity to vote was jeopardized by the storm.”

Honorees include:

  • Robert Giles, NJ Division of Elections
  • Alexander Shalom, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
  • Mary Ciccone, Disability Rights New Jersey
  • Catherine Weiss, Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest
  • NJ County Election Officials and County and Municipal Clerks
  • Volunteers and members of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey

“These individuals and organizations took extraordinary measures to ensure New Jersey’s citizens could exercise their right to vote, in ways we thought would never be possible,” said Zimmer. “They deserve our gratitude and I hope the public will join the League in thanking them for their service and commitment to democracy.”

The reception will begin at 6:00 pm and is open to the public, with a $125 registration fee. You can find more information and register here or call the League of Women Voters of New Jersey at 609-394-3303.