NJ's next step on voting rights? Allowing 17-year-olds to cast primary ballots

While some states are actively working to suppress voters, New Jersey continues to advocate for voter’s rights and expand access.

“Just months after enacting a historic early voting law, New Jersey Democrats are pressing ahead with another expansion to voting rights — this time allowing 17-year-olds to cast ballots in primary elections.

A panel of lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a bill, A2763, that would let 17-year-olds vote in June primary elections starting in 2022 if they will turn 18 on or before the November general election next year.”

New Jersey law currently allows 17-year-olds to register to vote, but they cannot cast ballots until their 18th birthday.

State lawmakers are hoping the bill is the next step in their bid to go in the opposite direction of states like Georgia, Iowa and Florida, which have made elections more restrictive since the derisive 2020 presidential contest and Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud.

The bill would create the "New Voter Empowerment Act," and advocates say it would encourage election participation in the Garden State.

"It will form a voting habit the earlier we get them to engage," said Uyen Khuong, executive director of Action Together New Jersey, a statewide organization that advocates for expanded voting rights. "It creates an ethos in participating in our democracy."

Some have allowed teens to participate in elections for many years:

Connecticut voters approved an amendment to the state constitution allowing 17-year-olds to vote 13 years ago. New Jersey lawmakers have debated a similar rule for at least five years, and in 2016 sent a similar bill to Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed it.

On Wednesday, the bill was passed out of an Assembly state government committee hearing in a party-line vote, with Republican members voting no, and no discussion among lawmakers.

“It’s important for our state to establish a culture of voting in both primaries and general elections among young people,” Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, D-Bergen, a sponsor of the bill, said in a statement after the vote.

The bill would need to be passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate and Assembly before heading to Murphy's desk for a signature.

If signed into law, the bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022, ahead of congressional midterm elections but not in time for this year's gubernatorial and legislative contests.

Murphy has signaled support, saying in March that allowing 17-year-olds to vote in the primary and offering same-day onsite voter registration are the types of measures the state must advance.

The governor has knocked Republican efforts in New Jersey and across the nation to curtail voter rights, including when he signed a bill into law allowing in-person early voting for the first time this November, when he is up for reelection.

"The bills that move forward must only be those that further the right to vote," Murphy said during the bill signing, featuring Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voter rights activist who has decried Republican efforts to lock down elections in her state.

Source: NJ elections: 17-year-olds could cast primary ballots under new bill (njherald.com)