Voters who go to the polls in New Jersey will do so in one of the shrinking number of states where a person can cast a vote without presenting identification.
Thirty-one states require some form of identification at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This can be anything from an ID with or without a photo, a utility bill or just personally knowing a poll worker, depending on the state. The Brennan Center for Justice has said five of the 12 likely battleground states in this year’s presidential election have passed stricter voter ID laws.
Conservatives have said voter ID measures are needed to fight voter fraud, while liberals have criticized the proposals by saying actual proven voter fraud is rare and that the proposals are potential bars to keep people without IDs or a means to get them from voting. The Brennan Center said the measures make voting more difficult for younger people, minorities, the poor and the disabled.
“It is disheartening to see voter ID laws popping up across the state border in Pennsylvania, across the country and even right here in our own backyard,” said Jeff Brown, Policy and Communications Coordinator for NJ Citizen Action. “These initiatives seek to disenfranchise the poor, seniors and people of color, and should be condemned by anyone and everyone who cares about the future of democracy.”
Several local lawmakers want to add New Jersey to the list of states with new requirements, but their proposal has so far failed to gain traction.
State Sen. Christopher Connors and Assembly members Brian Rumpf and Dianne Gove, Republicans who represent parts of Ocean, Burlington and Atlantic counties, proposed legislation in 2010 and this year that would require most voters to present current photo identification, such as a driver’s license, before they’re allowed to vote. The law would be similar to one in Pennsylvania that requires a photo ID to vote.
So far, however, the New Jersey bill has remained in committee without any other co-sponsors. The three did not return multiple calls for comment over several days this week.
Their proposal would not apply to military and overseas absentee voters, as well as housebound elderly or handicapped voters and those with documented religious objections to being photographed. Under the proposal, the state Motor Vehicle Commission would also issue nondriver identification cards at no charge to applicants who can prove they are indigent.
There have been few successful prosecutions of voter fraud locally.
Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small was twice acquitted on charges that he participated in voter fraud, although two supporters pleaded guilty to mishandling absentee ballots in 2009.
A onetime political organization built by resort resident Craig Callaway also faced frequent absentee ballot voter-fraud accusations, but it was his late brother Ronald Callaway who served almost a year in jail for voting under both his birth name and his adopted Muslim name, Jihad Q. Abdullah, in three elections in 2000 and 2001. Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Max A. Baker also invalidated Craig Callaway’s 2003 primary election over absentee ballot questions.
The state Office of Management and Budget said it believed county boards of election could see significant costs from having to increase staff, keep polling places open later and address a greater number of challenges.
John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, said he sees the national trend of voter ID laws as a Republican reaction to more effective recruitment strategies by Democrats in 2004 and 2008.
He said the laws developed from a mixture of motivations, including a belief that some voters shouldn’t have been registered, plus the view that any limits could have strategic value.
“If you can slow that number, that would be to the advantage of Republicans,” Weingart said.
But he said he didn’t think the laws would take root in New Jersey any time soon.
One way they could, he said, would be if Republicans could take control of the state Legislature away from the Democrats — who hold majorities in both houses — while still retaining the governorship.
Another way, he said, would be backed by a credible analysis by a group considered reputable by all sides that shows a significant problem with voter fraud.
“I think that both of those seem unlikely in the foreseeable future,” Weingart said.
The move by some states to require voters to present identification followed the chaos of the 2000 presidential election. The 2002 Help America Vote Act required first-time voters everywhere to present a form of identification, such as a driver’s license or utility bill, before they could cast their votes.
In Delaware, voters can use paychecks, bills and driver’s licenses to prove their identity, while those without IDs can sign an affidavit stating they are whom they claim to be.
On the other hand, Pennsylvania voters — with some exceptions — must present a current federal or state-issued photo ID with an expiration date. Groups have challenged the Pennsylvania law as unconstitutional and likely to disenfranchise voters. That state’s Supreme Court avoided ruling on it this week, sending it back to a lower court.
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