by Jasmine Hodari, New Jersey Monitor
When my family and I moved from Texas to New Jersey last fall, we breathed a sigh of relief.
No longer did we stress about the assault weapons owned by our neighbors, access to women’s reproductive health care, and voter suppression, including arbitrary waiting periods to vote after registering. Wait. Did we miss something here? New Jersey also has an arbitrary waiting period? We thought for sure we had left voter suppression behind when we left the South.
This waiting period affected my husband’s right to vote, and it almost affected mine. This is just our story, but I imagine my husband was not the only one denied their Constitutional right to vote because some of the New Jersey Legislature — and very specifically Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) — wants to keep this roadblock in place.
My husband and I are both U.S. Army combat veterans. We know too well just how much sacrifice goes into protecting our democracy, and we would never take our voting rights for granted. However, we are also human, and not everything goes as planned, especially when moving our family across the country in the middle of a pandemic. I’m wondering if Sen. Scutari has tried this recently and then remembered to register at least 21 days before an election?
We finally acquired a permanent address in New Jersey in December 2021. The next few weeks were filled with moving and getting our kids registered for school. Then, we all contracted COVID-19. Then, the holidays. Then, my husband started traveling again. And then, our neighbor’s tree fell on our house.
Essentially, life happened. The general election had come and gone, and with only a temporary rental address at the time, we were not able to register to vote in it. For the first time since we turned 18, we were not eligible to vote. This was devastating, but we moved on and figured we would register when we got our driver’s licenses before the primary election. Never mind that we made that appointment in early January and couldn’t get in until mid-March.
As a side note, if you think you can squeeze in that 21-day waiting period close to an election by registering at the Motor Vehicle Commission, forget about it!
When we learned in February there was a special election for local school board members coming up shortly, we were excited to vote in our first local election. My husband and I both dove in and researched all the candidates. This was important. This election would affect our family, and our vote mattered. Then it hit me that we still needed to register. I got online to find that New Jersey requires 21 days between registering and being allowed to vote. I barely registered in time. My husband, in a different time zone and busy with work, did not. Twice in a row, he could not vote, but this time, it was because of an arbitrary 21-day deadline. This man served in a combat zone in Iraq for an entire year, but he couldn’t vote in the very country that he defended because … well, I don’t even know why.
Same-day voter registration seems to work just fine in 20 other states. I’m still waiting for a reasonable explanation from Sen. Scutari why New Jersey is different.
“We want an informed electorate, people that are educated on issues,” he said when addressing why he wasn’t convinced about same-day registration.
Well, here we are. We knew the candidates for our local election inside and out, but that didn’t matter.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it require a voter to be educated on issues. The beauty of our democracy — the one that my husband and I served to protect — is that everyone has a right to be heard through voting, regardless of how informed they are. Last time I checked, one state senator shouldn’t get to decide otherwise. Makes me wonder: Senate President Scutari, what exactly are you afraid of that you won’t even hold legislative hearings on this issue?