NEWARK – With a rally at the statehouse and a letter delivered to New Jersey elected officials today, a coalition (the “NJVRA NOW Coalition”) of voting rights advocates called for New Jersey to protect the right to vote by passing a strong version of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New Jersey (A4554/S2997).
With voter suppression rampant across the country and federal voting rights eroded, it is more important than ever for New Jersey to enshrine into law voter protections to strengthen our democracy.
Voters in New Jersey, especially Black and other voters of color, face many barriers when it comes to casting their ballots, including late openings and long lines on Election Day, struggles with physical access to polling locations for those with disabilities and lack of language accessibility for those with limited English proficiency.
“In New Jersey, every qualified citizen has the right to vote – but not everyone has the equal ability to vote,” said the NJVRA Coalition in its letter to Governor Murphy, Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “This is unacceptable.”
The 1965 federal Voting Rights Act was landmark legislation – the culmination of decades of organizing and fighting for racial justice in the United States. With many foundational provisions, it protected voters of color against racial discrimination in voting. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has steadily weakened those protections over the past decade, and Congress has failed to take corrective action.
“This momentous bill would protect voters of color in New Jersey and strengthen our state democracy as voting rights continue to be eroded on the federal level,” said the NJVRA Coalition in its letter. “Through robust, pro-democracy measures, the NJVRA would reduce barriers to voting, increase language access and assistance, prohibit deceptive practices at the polls, and ensure that communities of color will have their ballots counted.”
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New Jersey (A4554/S2997) is currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature, and advocates are working with legislators to strengthen it.
According to the NJVRA NOW Coalition, the NJVRA must:
- Establish a New Jersey preclearance program that makes local governments with a history of discrimination prove to the state or to a court in New Jersey that certain changes they make to the voting process will not harm voters of color before those changes can go into effect;
- Provide new legal tools to fight discriminatory voting rules and procedures in court;
- Expand language assistance for voters with limited English proficiency;
- Include strong protections against voter intimidation, deception or obstruction at the polls;
- Instruct state judges to interpret election laws in a pro-voter way whenever possible; and;
- Ensure local and state voting laws, procedures and regulations do not deny voters of color and other protected categories of voters the right to cast their vote.
The NJVRA NOW Coalition, made up of state and national voting rights advocates, launched its campaign today on the birthday of civil rights leader and late Congressman John Lewis, who was badly beaten as he led the iconic 1965 march for voting rights on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama.
To watch the livestream of today’s event, visit https://www.facebook.com/NJISJ
A full copy of the letter can be found here.
For a full list of NJVRA NOW coalition members and more about the campaign for a New Jersey Voting Rights Act, visit njvra.org.