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Let’s celebrate Juneteenth and uphold Democracy by passing same-day voter registration | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

By Aaron Greene and Ed Potosnak

Juneteenth commemorates the anniversary of June 19, 1865, when more than 250,000 enslaved people in Texas first learned they were free — two months after the Civil War ended and two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It offers us an opportunity, no matter our race, to reflect on the past, assess our present, and recommit to a more racially just future.

One of the most urgent racial justice issues we face now is making sure everyone who is eligible can go to the polls and vote. Despite the Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminating many of the old Jim Crow laws that prevented African Americans from voting, voting rights have been under attack for generations due to discriminatory and exclusionary practices and policies by officials who want to make it harder for people of color to vote.

Fortunately for us, New Jersey has taken meaningful steps to address barriers to voting with early voting, voting by mail, and restoring the vote to people on probation and parole. But we can’t be a robust democracy until the legislature passes a bill (A1966/S247) to establish same-day voter registration. This legislation will improve voter participation by allowing eligible voters to register and vote at the polls during the in-person early voting period and on Election Day. It will remove our arbitrary 21-day registration deadline which disenfranchises voters each election.

People of color are registered to vote at lower rates than white people, and Black and brown people are also purged from voter rolls at higher rates than white voters. People of color also move more frequently and their voter information is often outdated. Young people are also purged from voter rolls at much higher rates than people over 30 because they also move often. Young people cite not being registered as the top reason for not voting.

Crucially, same-day voter registration has been proven to increase turnout by an average of about 7% compared with states that don’t have it. Black voter turnout is 2 to 17 percentage points higher and Latino/Latina/Latinx voting is up to 17.5 percentage points higher in states with same-day registration.

Despite some misconceptions, same-day voter registration does not favor one party over another. As a matter of fact, the bill has bipartisan backing in the state legislature with 18 sponsors in the Assembly and 11 sponsors in the Senate. That’s a miracle these days! It also has the support of numerous advocacy groups and voters in New Jersey.

Fears of fraud and partisanship from same-day registration are also unfounded. Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have same-day voter registration with a secure verification process in place. Voters are required to provide proof of identity and residency, the same documentation required when registering under the current process, prior to ballots being counted.

In the 2021 New Jersey gubernatorial election, only 40% of eligible voters cast their ballots, making it among the lowest turnouts for the Garden State in the past century. Think about it, do we want only 40% of eligible voters choosing who will decide taxing and spending in your local schools, whether highways and roads are repaired and kept safe, how public transportation works in your community, land use and development, housing, job programs or incentives, investment in parks or libraries, climate action, and how much of your tax dollars should be used to help the federal government meet its responsibilities?

If you agree that we need more than 40% of eligible voters deciding the future of our state, please contact your state legislators and legislative leaders and let them know you want the same-day voter registration bill to pass.

This Juneteenth let’s commit to doing more than only celebrating. Let’s actually take action on an issue that matters. Passing same-day voter registration would be a great legacy to leave our children and grandchildren and to honor all of those who fought so hard, some even giving their lives, to vote.

Aaron Greene is associate counsel in the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

Ed Potosnak is the executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.