Bills seek to improve the administration of elections to ensure accuracy, security, inclusiveness and integrity
The New Jersey Citizens’ Coalition on the Implementation of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) is introducing six pieces of legislation that it believes are needed to ensure the integrity of New Jersey’s elections. One bill, which has a sponsor, outlines a procedure for the mandatory audit of election results (amending S.507), and is designed to serve as model legislation for election integrity post-HAVA. Its most innovative feature is that the margin of victory in a race would determine the extent of the audit. In closer races, more districts would be scrutinized, and the districts to be audited would be chosen at random. The process is transparent, nonpartisan, and completely independent of software, assuring that outcome-reversing miscounts are detected. The other five bills address inter-county provisional voting, voter assistance in Asian languages, verification procedures for voter registration information, training for poll workers, and requirements for voter registration agencies.
Over the past few years, the Coalition has been working with State and local election officials and legislators to propose and implement election reforms that build upon the requirements of federal law. By treating HAVA as a floor and not a ceiling, New Jersey is poised to become a leader in election administration. With the 2008 Presidential primaries less than a year away, the need to have reforms in place has created a sense of urgency across the state, causing the Coalition to take the lead in drafting the new legislation and forge new partnerships along the way. Its mandatory audit bill was drafted with the assistance of a Ph.D. political scientist, experienced election integrity advocates from two states that have election auditing laws, Ph.D. statisticians from the American Statistical Association, and other voting rights advocates, all of whom worked pro bono.
We could no longer simply comment on the initiatives of others,” said Renée Steinhagen, Coordinator of the Coalition. “The time had come to change our stance and become proactive rather than reactive.”
These bills put New Jersey voters first,” said Justin Levitt, Counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “They take reasonable steps – some long overdue – to protect the integrity of our elections and promote the participation of all eligible voters. We hope that the legislature will give them the speedy passage they deserve.”
The proper administration of elections is essential to our democracy,” added Ms. Steinhagen. “All the proposed bills go a great distance toward improving the administration of elections by achieving the goals of transparency, accuracy, and voter inclusiveness.”
In addition to the mandatory audit bill, the Coalition is introducing five other pieces of legislation. “Though the mandatory audit bill is apt to garner the most attention due to NJ’s looming voter-verifiable paper record requirement on January 1, 2008, each and every one of these bills is critical for ensuring fair, nondiscriminatory and inclusive elections in our state,” said Lauren Skowronski, Executive Director, Common Cause New Jersey.
One of the bills will increase election participation among Asian American voters who have limited English proficiency. Glenn D. Magpantay, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund staff attorney said, “AALDEF has conducted multilingual exit polls in New Jersey for many years and has consistently found that many Asian American voters need language assistance to exercise their right to vote. Last year, during the November 2006 elections, 32% of Asian American voters we surveyed in New Jersey were limited English proficient. Ballots, voting instructions, and interpreters in Asian languages will ensure access to the vote for the Asian American community in New Jersey, which has now surpassed the 600,000 mark.”
Another bill will permit voters who move between counties to vote a provisional ballot if they do not notify election officials of their move in a timely fashion. Sandra Matsen, League of Women Voters of New Jersey, said, “With the statewide voter registration system up and running, it is time for the promise of provisional ballots to become a reality. Individuals who move between counties and fail to re-register should be able to vote in their current place of residency on a provisional ballot.”
Yet another bill imposes uniform training requirements on poll workers and another sets forth best practices for voter registration agencies. “Poll workers are the link between election administration – the laws, rules and procedures governing the election process – and the voters. We have one set of state election laws and we can no longer tolerate 21 different trainings. Statewide uniformity for training poll workers is essential for a fair and effective election system,” added Jo-Anne Chasnow, Policy Director of Project Vote’s Election Administration Program. “Furthermore, New Jersey must comply with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 in offering voter registration opportunities in a host of state agencies. Compliance is long overdue, and one of these bills will help to ensure that this will happen.
To date, the package of six proposed bills has been endorsed by: AARP-NJ, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Asian American Legal Defense & Education Fund, Asian American Political Coalition of NJ, Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association of NJ, Brennan Center for Justice, Coalition for Peace Action, Common Cause New Jersey, Korean American Bar Association of NJ, Korean American Voters’ Council of NY/NJ, League of Women Voters-NJ, Manavi, New Jersey ACORN, NJ Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, New Jersey Citizen Action, NJ Immigration Policy Network, Organization of Chinese Americans-NJ Chapter, Pan American Concerned Citizens Action League, Pan American Friendship Committee, Philippine American Friendship Committee, Project Vote, and South Asian American Leaders for Tomorrow.
For more information, contact Renée Steinhagen, Coordinator of the NJ Citizens’ Coalition on the Implementation of HAVA at: New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, www.njappleseed.net
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