by Samuel Thompson, NJ-12 Assembly,
TRENTON-Voting is one of the greatest privileges we have as Americans. The trends in election turnout are disheartening and prove that we need to do more to increase participation. However, there is some good news: data from the U.S. Census and the state Division of Elections shows that up to 92 percent of eligible voters in New Jersey were registered and eligible to vote in recent elections.
My fellow Republicans in the New Jersey State Senate and I want every law-abiding citizen to vote. Every American should seize the opportunity to have a say in who gets to be their voice in the halls of government.
What we are opposed to, is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on unnecessary legislation. In a state with the highest property taxes in the country, we simply can’t afford to play political games with the state’s money. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what New Jersey Democrats are trying to do this week. And we need help from New Jersey residents to stop them.
Last week, New Jersey Democrats forced through last-minute amendments to S-481, also known as the “automatic voter registration” bill. The far-reaching change was introduced right before we were about to vote it out of committee.
Originally, S-481 would have automatically registered eligible voters any time they visit a Motor Vehicle Office, unless they opt out. The last-minute amendments drastically changed the bill.
Under the new version, every single state agency in New Jersey – from the MVC to the parole board – would automatically register any potentially eligible voter they collect information from.
Democrats tried to pass a bill in 2016 to create automatic registration at Motor Vehicle Agencies. Fortunately, it was vetoed. That bill would have cost $1 million to implement, and $400,000 a year to maintain, according to the conditional veto statement.
$1.4 million to sign up the remaining 8 percent of New Jersey residents who aren’t registered to vote: that is the price tag for implementing automatic registration at one state agency. Imagine how much taxpayer money it’s going to cost to get every single state agency on board.
Is this really a good use of taxpayer dollars? Of course not. It’s obscene.
Why are Democrats spending so much money on a bad bill, when they won’t even fully-fund our schools or the homestead rebate program, which would at least provide some property tax relief for our residents?
The massive cost of this bill is just the tipping point. We also have to acknowledge that there is a very real possibility that this legislation could lead to an increase in voter fraud.
Voter fraud is real and it happens in New Jersey. Expanding voter registration without also spending more taxpayer money to update technology and hire more people will undoubtedly cause overworked state employees and understaffed agencies to let instances of voter fraud slip through the cracks.
It is no secret that the lack of efficiency at state agencies is a huge problem. Do we really want to make changes that will lead to voter fraud or make wait times even worse?
Last year, Democrats acknowledged that voter fraud is an issue. They added language to the 2016 motor voter bill that would have required anyone who registers to vote to acknowledge that voter fraud is a crime in New Jersey, punishable by up to five years in prison. That language is not included in the bill they are attempting to push through now. In fact, S-481 makes it extremely difficult to hold anyone accountable for illegally registering an ineligible voter.
It’s a slippery slope, because at the same time that this bill is moving through, Democrats are also advocating for legislation to grant voting rights to prisoners and people who are still on parole. Is it any wonder that they also want to pass a bill that would allow parole offices to automatically register people to vote?
Whenever a major amendment is offered to controversial legislation with little discussion at the last minute before a vote, it’s right to question the motivation for the change and the lack of transparency in the process. We are concerned by reports that this amendment was pushed by an outside organization linked to Democratic politics. We believe that forcing New Jersey taxpayers to pay millions of dollars for legislation that is likely politically motivated is unconscionable.
Thankfully, this sneaky trick did not go unnoticed by my Republican colleagues on the Senate Budget Committee – all of whom took notice of the last-minute amendment and voted against the bill in committee last Thursday.
If New Jersey Democrats are going to insist on pushing through such a terrible piece of legislation, the least they can do is add language to the bill that would enact stronger penalties for voter fraud so that people or organizations that break the law are punished accordingly.
Republicans in the state Senate and the Assembly will continue to loudly voice our opposition, but we need the state’s residents to also oppose this legislation.