August 15, 2023
NEWARK – The New Jersey institute for Social Justice, the Legal Defense Fund and the Election Law Clinic at Harvard Law School today released NJVRA NOW: Why New Jersey Needs its Own Voting Rights Act, a report making the case for why New Jersey must pass its own voting rights act.
Between the systematic erosion of the federal Voting Rights Act over time and the barriers to the ballot box already faced by New Jersey voters, especially those of color, New Jersey must join six other states that have passed state-level voting rights acts and pass a strong version of the pending John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New Jersey.
“Our vote is our power. When voting is suppressed or made difficult, as disproportionately happens in our Black and Brown communities, our democracy suffers – with real life consequences,” said Nuzhat Chowdhury, Sr. Counsel, Democracy & Justice Program, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “As our report lays out, a strong state VRA will protect the vote in New Jersey and empower New Jersey’s Black and other voters of color to elect people who represent their interests. This is crucial in New Jersey, where we have some of the worst racial disparities in the country, including our $300,000 racial wealth gap.”
The new report traces the history and weakening of the federal Voting Rights Act and explains why a state-specific voting rights act would strengthen New Jersey’s democracy and expand voting access, especially for those of color and those who face language and physical barriers to the polls.
“New Jersey voters – particularly voters of color – face persistent obstacles to casting a meaningful ballot,” said Ruth Greenwood, Director of Harvard Law School’s Election Law Center. “From language barriers to limited physical polling place accessibility, these problems result in deeper disparities in all aspects of life. A New Jersey Voting Rights Act will help safeguard the promise of a multi-racial democracy for all New Jerseyans.”
While New Jersey has taken some important pro-democracy steps in recent years with the passage of automatic and online voter registration, restoring the vote to people on probation and parole and eliminating prison-based gerrymandering, it’s essential in a world of weakened voter protection that we take the next step and pass a state-specific voting rights act that addresses our unique needs.
“Through enacting the NJVRA, New Jersey can become a national leader by meeting a critical local need,” said Adam Lioz, Legal Defense Fund Senior Policy Counsel. “State VRAs are a critical tool for protecting Black voters against unfair barriers to the ballot and building a truly inclusive, multiracial democracy.”
A strong version of the pending NJVRA bill will tear down barriers to the ballot box by increasing language assistance and resources for voters with limited English proficiency, providing new tools to fight discriminatory voting rules and procedures in court, and ensuring that local and state voting laws and practices do not deny voters of color the right to cast their vote.
An online copy of the report can be found here. A pdf copy of the report can be found here.