- Governor wouldn't act on bills until Assembly gaveled in
- "Democracy Act" would expand early voting, auto-registration
Republican Governor Chris Christie vetoed an overhaul of New Jersey’s voting procedures that Democrats and the League of Women Voters said would have increased turnout, calling it wasteful and politically motivated.
The measure, dubbed the “The Democracy Act,” would have expanded early voting, created online registration and automatically enrolled people applying for a driver’s license unless they opted out. Christie, who vetoed a bill in 2013 that would have required polls to open two weeks before elections, has said the latest effort would have raised the risk of fraud.
In a statement accompanying the veto, Christie said he remained doubtful the measure would increase turnout. He said it would “upend” the state’s current early-voting statutes allowing people to cast paper ballots prior to an election. The law would cost an additional $25 million per year, he said.
“I reject this government-knows-best, backward approach that would inconvenience citizens and waste government resources for no justifiable reason,” Christie said Monday in the veto message. “New Jersey taxpayers deserve better than to have their hard-earned tax dollars spent on thinly-veiled political gamesmanship and the state must ensure that every eligible citizen’s vote counts and is not stolen by fraud.”
Tom Hester, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, said nothing in the measure was objectionable.
“The governor never ceases to disappoint,” Prieto said in a statement. “I will confer with my fellow legislative leaders and sponsors to decide the next step, even if that means taking these reforms directly to the voters for approval.”
The issue of voting rights regained prominence in 2013 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to throw out a core element of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That decision opened the door for some Republican governors to take steps such as requiring voters to show photo identification that they said would prevent voter fraud —- and which opponents said would make it harder for minorities and the poor to vote.
Christie took action on a raft of legislation Monday -- his last day under the constitution to do so. The normal 45-day deadline had been extended because the Assembly came into session Monday for the first time since June and Christie had refused to act on the bills until they came to work. In all, he sign 39 bills and vetoed 24.
When Christie vetoed an early-voting measure in 2013, he said the effort wasn’t needed because the state allows voters to cast mail-in ballots as many as 45 days early, and that it would have cost taxpayers more than $25 million.
That same year, Christie called a special election three weeks before Election Day to replace Democratic U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died that June. The election cost taxpayers $12 million. Critics contended Christie made that move to prevent stronger Democratic turnout in an election where Christie himself was also on the ballot. Only 25 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the Senate contest.