[Image courtesy of all-flags-world]
Citing the threat of voter fraud, potential costs and “political gamesmanship,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday vetoed a sweeping election reform bill. The Burlington County Times has more:
The Democracy Act was arguably the most controversial of the bills Christie blocked. Among its provisions, the measure would have expanded early-voting procedures and mandated counties to name at least three designated polling places where voters could cast ballots in person beginning 15 days before the general election.
The bill called for counties with between 150,000 and 300,000 voters to be required to establish five early-voting locations, and counties with 700,000 or more registered voters to establish seven locations.
Among its other changes, the bill proposed making voter registration automatic at Motor Vehicle Commission offices and require pre-election materials to be mailed to voters in more languages. It also would allow military and overseas voters to cast ballots via the Internet and fax machines and allow online voter registration.
Supporters said the changes were designed to make it easier for people to register to vote and cast ballots. During this year’s general election, only about 21 percent of the state’s registered voters cast ballots.
Governor Christie criticized Democrats who supported the bill for playing politics even as he raised concerns about the impact the legislation would have on election integrity and state and local coffers:
In his veto message, Christie, who is in the middle of a presidential campaign, described many of the changes as costly, counterproductive, and a “manifest attempt to use election reform for political gain.”
“New Jersey taxpayers deserve better than to have their hard-earned tax dollars spent on thinly-veiled political gamesmanship, and the state must ensure that every eligible citizen’s vote counts and is not stolen by fraud,” Christie wrote in his veto. “This 71-page bill, styled as ‘The Democracy Act,’ will not further democracy but endanger the state’s long-standing and proven election system.”
A fiscal estimate from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services could not calculate exact costs and savings from the bill, but it indicated that some changes would cost between $50 million and $100 million for new voting machines, and that the early-voting provisions would cost anywhere between $5 million and $22 million.
Democratic supporters of the Act aren’t ready to give up the fight and may be taking the issue to voters:
In response to the veto, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-32nd of Secaucus, said Democrats would consider asking voters directly to approve the changes in the form of a constitutional amendment.
“This is the bottom line: The people of New Jersey want changes to our voting laws, and they shouldn’t have to wait,” Prieto said Monday. “The right to vote is a hallmark of our democracy, but access to that right to vote is also tantamount. New Jersey has been stuck in the Stone Age when it comes to our voting laws. We could have changed this with these common-sense reforms.”
Given the sweeping nature of the legislation – as noted, it would have included early voting, automatic voter registration and funds for new voting machines, proposals which standing alone have taken time to enact in other states – it isn’t surprising that a GOP Governor and a Democratic legislature didn’t see eye-to-eye. It will be interesting to see if legislators narrow the focus or break the bill into smaller pieces when trying again or in presenting the choice to the voters.
Either way, it looks like New Jersey will continue to administer elections the way it has for decades when voters return to the polls next year – a fact for which Gov. Christie and the Legislature are likely to blame one another as the campaign heats up.
Stay tuned …