Bill That Removes Arbitrary Barrier to Voting Stalled This Month 

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today issued the following reactions in response to the Governor’s proposed FY2023 budget

The following can be attributed to Laura Sullivan, Director of the Economic Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice: “We are heartened that the Governor has made affordable housing a priority for the state and that he will continue to protect the Affordable Housing Trust Fund for its intended purpose. In addition, we are pleased that the Governor will be allocating resources from the American Rescue Plan to build additional affordable housing in the state through the new Affordable Housing Production Fund.

As we highlight in our report, Making the Two New Jerseys One, the cost of housing in New Jersey is a staggering 41% higher than in the nation overall, while 20% of New Jersey households have incomes under $35,000. Affordable housing production is imperative to ensure that all families have a safe and affordable place to live, particularly families of color who are more likely to be renters.

“The expansion of the Community College Opportunity Grant and second year of state support for the Garden State Guarantee are important steps for expanding higher education access in New Jersey. We are pleased that removing financial barriers to higher education remains a priority for the Governor and are encouraged by the development of the Scarlet Guarantee at Rutgers.

These programs are positive developments for expanding access to higher education and must have continued and sustained funding moving forward beyond this budget year. Our vision for the state is that students in New Jersey will be truly Freed from Debt and these programs bring us closer to that goal.  “We are pleased to see continuing support through the Workforce Development Partnership Fund for apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs that help expand access to quality jobs and we are heartened by a stated focus on making these programs more inclusive for women and people of color.

The full implementation of recently passed legislation that is designed specifically to help diversify apprenticeship programs will help ensure that those programs successfully serve women and people of color. The following can be attributed to Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice: “As we watch democracy under attack both around the country and across the world, it is important for New Jersey to defend voters’ access to the ballot.

After implementing early voting last year and fully funding it – which brought Souls to the Polls to New Jersey for the first time – we are grateful the Governor has included $7 million in his budget to fund a long-needed poll worker pay increase to $300 for Election Day.   “We are disappointed the Governor has not included funds for voter education and outreach, which is particularly necessary this fiscal year when voters will need to learn new congressional and state legislative maps following the recent redistricting cycle.

For a healthy democracy, we need to invest in providing voters the tools – and education – they need to meaningfully participate.   “We wish the Governor had included additional funds to expand and strengthen our democracy, such as funding to expand Automatic Voter Registration, provide postage for vote-by-mail ballots and allow voters to apply for vote-by-mail online. We urge the Legislature to include funding for these measures that will allow voters better access to the ballot.”

The following can be attributed to Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice: “We applaud New Jersey for closing a Department of Corrections facility in response to dwindling populations. But, by that same logic, the state must also close its three youth prisons – slated to close four years ago – which are 80% empty, ineffective and wastefully cost nearly $500,000 per youth to run.

Similarly, given the decline in both the youth and adult prison populations, we are puzzled to see an increase in spending on corrections and juvenile justice officers’ salaries of $49.8 million.  “We are pleased to see that $4.2 million is budgeted for the Restorative Justice for Youths and Communities Pilot program. As we mention in our Youth Justice Toolkit, this pilot can provide critically needed prevention, diversion and reentry services for youth; we look forward to its success and its expansion statewide.

We are also pleased to see that New Jersey is exploring using American Rescue Plan funds to create mental health and other programs for students, programs we advocated for in our toolkit Investing in Youth, Not Incarceration.   “However, while a step in the right direction, it is overall disheartening that during this period of inflation and instability after two years of a pandemic, New Jersey will only spend a mere .02% or $10 million of our $48.9 billion budget on violence intervention programs that have been proven to reduce crime and keep our communities safe. Instead, we must double down on resourcing our communities.”

NEWARK — Over 90 advocacy groups including the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey today wrote to Gov. Murphy, Sen. President Scutari and Speaker Coughlin for a second time urging them to pass and sign pending legislation (A1966/S247) to establish same-day voter registration in New Jersey, including on Election Day.

Advocacy groups wrote to Gov. Murphy and legislative leadership in March 2021 and despite support across the state and from Gov. Murphy, the bill remains stalled.

“In the year that has passed, we have seen democracy come under attack both across the country and around the world. State after state has passed laws restricting the right to vote – most often impacting Black and other voters of color. It is crucial for New Jersey to step up as a leader in democracy,” said the letter.

“In the past few months, the sponsors, the Governor’s office, the Secretary of State’s office and advocates have worked on amendments to the legislation to simplify the process and address concerns raised by election officials,” continued the letter. “The bill, with the amendments, uses existing infrastructure and will have minimal – if any – costs. We should make it as easy as possible for people to vote, even when it’s a burden to the government. However, when there is no burden there is no excuse not to expand voting rights.”

In a time where state after state has passed laws restricting the right to vote, campaign advocates argue that it’s crucial for New Jersey, which currently has an arbitrary three-week registration deadline, to step up as a leader and join the 20 other states and D.C. that already have same-day registration.

The letter stated to Gov. Murphy, Sen. Scutari and Speaker Coughlin that “[b]ecause of your leadership, New Jersey has made significant progress in expanding and strengthening our democracy. Early voting, automatic and online voter registration, restoring the right to vote to people on parole and probation and ending prison gerrymandering are a testament to your commitment to making our democracy accessible for all. Unfortunately, however, many of these reforms are undercut by our arbitrary voter registration deadline that needlessly disenfranchises voters every election.”

Same-day registration has been shown to increase turnout for Black and Latina/Latino voters, and in particular young people. It will also cost the state little – if anything – since it uses the already-existing provisional ballot system.

And, as the letter explains, same-day voter registration is as secure as traditional voter registration and also an effective way to remedy inaccurate voting rolls.

The group’s letter also explained that same-day registration is a racial justice issue: “Young people are more diverse in New Jersey than older generations, as over half of millennials in the state are people of color. Generation Z is even more diverse. Black and Brown voters are often purged from voter rolls at higher rates.”

“New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation. We need to show that we are not afraid of democracy here – we embrace it,” the letter concluded.

A full copy of the letter can be found here.