TRENTON — A coalition of labor unions, women and minority groups, and civil rights organizations are urging Gov. Chris Christie to a sign what they call a groundbreaking piece of legislation sitting on his desk.
The Democratic-controlled state Legislature sent the "Democracy Act," a sweeping overhaul of New Jersey's voting laws, to the Republican governor last month — though Democratic leaders aren't confident he'll approve it.
But the coalition of 35 groups sent a letter to Christie this week stressing that the measure would make it easier for more New Jersey residents to cast ballots and would bring the state's "voting practices into the 21st century."
"The right to vote is meant to be the great equalizer, but that equality only has meaning if we have equal access to the ballot box," the coalition says in the letter, according to a copy obtained by NJ Advance Media. "Unfortunately, narrow windows for participation, outdated voting practices and New Jersey's failure to take advantage of technology create unnecessary hurdles for far too many New Jerseyans and limit full participation in our democracy."
If signed by Christie, the measure (A4613) would allow for more early voting options, online voter registration, and automatic registration at the Motor Vehicle Commission. It would also require pre-election materials to be printed in more languages.
And it would clear up New Jersey's contradictory U.S. Senate succession laws and curtail the governor's power in appointing temporary senators by requiring them to be from the same party as the person who vacated the seat.
It remains unclear whether Christie will sign the measure. During his monthly radio show in June, the governor — a Republican presidential candidate — expressed concerns about automatic voter registration.
"I don't think that people ought to be automatically registered to vote," he said. "Is it really too much to ask to ask someone to fill out a form?"
Christie also suggested the bill is an attempt by the Democratic National Committee to increase voter fraud.
"There's no question in my mind that there are some advocates of this who are looking to increase the opportunity for voter fraud," he said on the radio show. "I think there's much more politics behind this than there is democracy."
Brian Murray, a spokesman for Christie's office, said Monday that "we cannot comment until (the bill has) been fully reviewed on this end, per usual on most bills."
Christie has also criticized former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, after she called for every American to be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 unless they choose not to be. She also suggested Republican-backed voter fraud prevention laws in Texas and Wisconsin curtail minority and youth voting.
Christie said in June that Clinton "doesn't know what she's talking about."
The coalition noted that it sent the letter during the week of the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which Congress passed in 1965 to prohibit racial discrimination in voting across the nation.
Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families — one of the group's leading the initiative — stressed that New Jersey ranks toward the bottom of the 50 states for voter registration and participation "thanks to outdated voting practices that don't reflect modern life, modern families or modern technology."
"How can the governor say with a straight face that he should lead the greatest democracy in the world if he won't strengthen democracy and protect voters in his own state?" Mejia asked.
Here is the full list of the 35 groups that signed the letter:
AFSCME Council 1
American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey
Blue Wave NJ
Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law
Clean Water Action
Communication Workers of America District 1
Committee of Interns and Residents
La Casa De Don Pedro
Latino Action Network
Laundry Distribution and Food Services, Joint Board, Workers United
League of Women Voters of New Jersey
Make the Road New Jersey
NAACP New Jersey State Chapter
National Organization of Women of New Jersey
New Jersey Black Issues Convention
New Jersey Citizen Action
New Jersey Communities United
New Jersey Education Association
New Jersey PIRG Citizens Lobby
New Jersey Progressive Democrats for America
New Jersey State Industrial Union Council
New Jersey Working Families
Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters
Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters — AFT
Save Our Schools March
Sierra Club, NJ
SEIU State Council
SEIU New Jersey State Council
Teamsters Local 469
Union of Rutgers Administrators — AFT Local 176
Wayne League of Women Voters