TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey voters might have to wait a little longer for updated election laws if Gov. Chris Christie’s statements on a reform bill translate into a veto.
Christie has spoken critically of the reform package, cast by Democrats as a major overhaul of the state’s 20th-century election system.
The Democrat-led statehouse sent Christie the bill just as he formally begins his run for the Republican presidential nomination and as a debate simmers between the political parties over reforming state election laws. Republican lawmakers across the country are aiming to crack down on fraud and impose identification requirements and Democrats are seeking to automate registration and expand election rolls.
For Christie, talking tough on the issue might give him an opportunity to demonstrate his conservative credentials, experts say, as the New Jersey Legislation contrasts with what Republican legislators in some states — like neighboring Pennsylvania — have pursued. Pennsylvania’s GOP-led Legislature passed legislation requiring photo identification at the polls, but it was struck down by a court.
The New Jersey legislation would enact automatic voter registration when residents apply for driver’s licenses, establish early voting and authorize pre-registration for 17-year-olds, among other measures.
The issue has seeped into the presidential contest. Christie tussled last month with Hillary Clinton, who suggested Republicans favor making it harder for people to vote, saying she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Despite the wrangling, the issue does not appear to be the driving issue in the presidential race, according to polls.
But there is more than the presidential politics in the mix. At the state level, the parties could gain or lose from the legislation as well, experts point out.
The proposed changes could swell voter registration rolls and might benefit Democrats, who already have a registration advantage in New Jersey, Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison said. That’s because, Harrison said, eligible voters in New Jersey’s biggest cities have traditionally under-registered. Those voters tend to vote Democratic, she added.
Democrats cast the measure as a much-needed and commonsense reform that would expand the voting base. New Jersey’s voter participation is among the lowest the country, they say, and an AP analysis of voter data in the June primary showed turnout — 5.1 percent — was the lowest in a primary in at least 90 years.
They also recoil at the idea that Christie’s presidential ambitions factor into their legislation.
New Jersey Republicans are skeptical of the Democrats’ motives, pointing out that residents may vote early already by requesting and mailing in absentee ballots. They opposed the measure when it came for a vote in both chambers, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. has questioned whether the legislation would actually increase voter turnout.
If Christie vetoes the legislation or sends it back to lawmakers with changes, Harrison said, Democrats may push for an override — though they have never succeeded in doing so under this governor. Despite that, national Democrats could use the issue in the presidential contest against him.
“I have a suspicion it will be used as fodder against the governor,” she said.
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