Court Signs Order Protecting Rights of Displaced New Jersey Residents

November 8, 2012
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Numerous requests for email ballots went unanswered by county offices

NEWARK – Displaced New Jersey residents who attempted to obtain a ballot through email or fax, but were not successful on Election Day, will still be able to cast their votes until Friday. Superior Court Judge Walter Koprowski in Essex County signed an order stating that voters who provide proof that they attempted to receive a ballot on Nov. 6, but did not receive one, will still have their vote counted.

The order, which was signed on Nov. 7, states that county clerks statewide must continue to accept and process applications for ballots, as long as the displaced voter provides proof that he or she made an attempt to receive a ballot on Election Day. Voters who tried to vote before 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 unsuccessfully and still wish to cast a ballot must contact their county clerk before noon Friday, Nov. 9. They must also provide proof of an attempt such as a bounced email message or a fax transmission statement showing that the fax did not go through to their county clerk.

The ACLU-NJ recommends voters contact their county clerks right away in order to meet Friday’s noon deadline.

The order was issued after the ACLU-NJ filed a petition asking the court to intervene based on complaints from many displaced voters who said they could not obtain ballots from county election offices, many of which were overwhelmed with the volume of requests.

On Nov. 3, in response to the storm, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno issued a directive that called for voters displaced by the storm to be treated as if they were overseas residents, who are allowed to vote by fax or email. The ACLU-NJ and other voter protection advocates praised the state for taking steps to make sure their votes would be counted. But on Election Day, the ACLU-NJ received a number of complaints from voters who said they tried to obtain a ballot through fax or email but heard no response.

“My husband and I have contacted the Essex County Clerk’s office via email, phone and online in order to vote via email. We have not heard back from them after numerous attempts,” said Tricia Figgins, an Essex County voter who was forced to temporarily move to New York. “The gas shortage complicates the issue, because we cannot use gas to drive two hours to our local polling place.”

After hearing complaints similar to those expressed by Figgins, the Lieutenant Governor issued another directive on Tuesday extending the time within which displaced voters could obtain and cast ballots to Friday, Nov. 9, as long as the request for that ballot was received by the county clerk by 5 p.m. on Election Day. However, the state’s directive did not explicitly account for individuals who attempted to contact their county clerks’ offices unsuccessfully due to the high volume of requests received.

The ACLU-NJ went to court on behalf of Figgins as well as two other voters: Abigail Jones, a resident of Maplewood displaced by the hurricane to Pennsylvania, and Barbara Ertel, a South Orange resident displaced by the storm who took refuge in Delaware.

The ACLU-NJ petitioned the judge to intervene and asked the court to allow displaced voters to vote by using the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, which is also used by members of the military serving overseas and other overseas U.S. citizens who cannot obtain a ballot. The judge denied that request.

“While we did not obtain the remedy we thought most capable of protecting voters’ rights, the judge in our case did order that the state hold firm to its commitment to afford the right to vote to all voters who were displaced by Hurricane Sandy,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “The judge’s order attempts to protect the rights of displaced voters who tried in vain this Election Day to obtain a ballot.”

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Election Protection Effort Launched to Assist Voters in Nov. 6 Election

November 6, 2012
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The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey will provide assistance to voters as they go to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote in the presidential election. If you are experiencing problems, call the NJ Vote Line at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683), which will be answered by the League of Women Voters. You can also contact the ACLU-NJ directly at 973-642-2086 x1719.

Citizens who have been displaced by last week’s storm have two options for voting. They can either:

  • Vote by provisional ballots at any polling place in the state, even at polling places outside of their own county. Depending on the polling place you use, you may not be able to cast a vote in local or congressional elections, but your vote for all statewide ballot questions, U.S. Senate and President will definitely be counted.
  • If you have no way to get to a polling place or you want to make sure to cast a vote in a local election, you may email or fax the form to request and receive "vote by mail" ballots by 5 pm on Nov. 6. You will then receive a ballot that you have to return the same way by 8 pm Election Day. Anyone who casts a ballot via email or fax must also send a hard copy of their ballot to the county clerk to have a record of the vote and the time it was placed.

The ACLU-NJ will also have volunteer attorneys at Bergen, Middlesex and Morris counties to represent voters who believe they were wrongly turned away from the polls. Please call us if you live in those counties to see if we can assist you in court to petition for the right to vote.

To learn more about your voting rights, visit our Voting Rights page for more information.

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Voters Demand Same-Day Registration in NJ Elections

April 19, 2011
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NEW BRUNSWICK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, along with co-counsels Rutgers School of Law-Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic and New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, filed a lawsuit today arguing for Election Day voter registration to remove obstacles that impede the right to vote. The suit, filed on behalf of Rutgers University students, Middlesex County residents, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey and New Jersey Citizen Action, aims to strengthen the right to vote for the thousands of eligible New Jersey voters disenfranchised each election cycle.

“The facts show that states that allow election-day registration have substantially higher voter participation, and they also show that election-day registration has functioned smoothly there,” said Professor Frank Askin, Director of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark Constitutional Litigation Clinic.

The lawsuit (63k PDF), filed in Middlesex County Superior Court, argues that New Jersey cannot justify its prohibition against voters who try to register less than 21 days before an election. Election-day registration would provide recourse against burdensome factors often outside of voters’ control that currently rob many thousands of New Jerseyans of their right to vote in elections.

“An overwhelming number of the problems the ACLU-NJ sees year after year monitoring polls and helping voters could be solved in one fell swoop by instituting Election Day registration,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Two of the main culprits in denying people their right to vote — citizens not receiving provisional ballots or not having those ballots counted — would be problems of the past.”

New Jersey’s electronic voter databases, modernized in accordance with the Help America Vote Act, can rapidly verify voters’ information uses for its elections, rendering the 21-day registration deadline obsolete. Further, the current regulations are incompatible with modern political campaigning, which targets voters most heavily in the week before an election, when voter interest peaks.

“Historically, the state instituted the 21-day registration cutoff in order to verify voters’ identities, but advances in technology now make that deadline moot,” said Renee Steinhagen, Executive Director of New Jersey Appleseed. “The state has no legitimate reason to cut off voter registration in the weeks before an election, and consequently voters will feel an even greater impact on their rights.”

New Jersey’s overly strict registration regulations disproportionately deny the right to vote to young adults, who move more frequently than older adults. Poll workers in 2009 denied Rutgers student Gabriela Grzybowski a provisional ballot, which would have registered to vote for the next election, when her name was omitted from the rolls. When she attempted to re-register in 2010, she discovered she had missed the deadline.

Rutgers student Beth Breslaw faced a similar situation in 2010. An injury put Breslaw in crutches, preventing her from traveling to Mercer County, where she was registered. She tried to vote in Middlesex County, where she was a resident, but the 21-day rule prevented her ballot from counting in that election, even though it registered her in Middlesex County for the next one.

“Our generation gets an unfair reputation for not being engaged in the political process, but when I look around, that’s just not what I see,” said Matt Cordeiro, Vice President of the Rutgers Student Association, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “I see students desperate to have a say in their democracy, but when they come up against hurdles every step of the way, they question whether the system is functional enough for their vote to count.”

Other students have suffered from administrative failure in processing applications collected through voter-registration drives, including plaintiff and Rutgers student Edward Vasconellos, who had no recourse when his name didn’t appear on the rolls in both 2007 and 2008. His provisional ballot registered for the next election, but because he could not prove he had registered 21 days before the previous election, his vote in that election did not count.

The case, captioned Rutgers University Student Assembly v. Middlesex County Board of Elections, was filed in Middlesex County Superior Court.

Voter Groups Go To Court To Fight For Voting Rights of Students

October 27, 2010
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TRENTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Project Vote and the Fair Elections Legal Network today submitted a brief seeking to ensure that the Department of Education fulfill a twenty-five-year old mandate to protect the voting rights of private, charter, and public school students, which the DOE has thus-far failed to meet.

“It is appalling that 25 years after the High School Voter Registration Law was issued, there are still no regulations on the books protecting the rights of private and charter school students under the law, and only the most minimal of protections for district public school students,” said Ed Barocas, the ACLU-NJ legal director.

In 1985, New Jersey passed a law giving all eligible high school seniors the right to receive a voter registration form and voter education as they neared adulthood. The law required the DOE to pass regulations to effectuate the law and ensure compliance. But the DOE never did. And even when the DOE earlier this year created a minimal and insufficient compliance requirement for public schools, it still wholly ignored the rights of students at private and charter schools.

In June of this year, the DOE turned down the voting rights groups’ formal request to tighten the oversight requirements. The groups therefore took state educators to court. This appeal of the DOE decision is based on a section of the voter law that says the commissioner of education “shall adopt” regulations on the voting law.

“The result is that students in 40 to 60 percent of school districts are not being educated about a fundamental aspect of our democracy, or are not receiving the tools they need to register and to vote,” stated Robert Brandon, president of the Fair Elections Legal Network. “When Governor Tom Kean signed the law in 1985, it was out of a civic-minded purpose to fight low rates of voter registration and voting that tend to occur among youth. Today’s lawsuit asks the State to honor that promise to New Jersey’s students and enforce their rights under the voting laws.”

The case is especially important for the over 13,000 students who graduate from private and charter schools every year. The State doesn’t monitor those schools at all for compliance with the voter registration law.

The 84,000 students who graduate annually from New Jersey public schools will also benefit from this case, which asks the appeals court to bolster state oversight and monitoring over their voter registration practices for public schools. Currently, school administrators must check a box on a 144-page checklist, once every three years, to affirm compliance. That is the extent of oversight imposed by the State about the voting laws.

According to Census Department figures, youths age 18-24 vote at far lower rates than their older counterparts. The past two presidential elections years have shown gaps ranging from 12 to 23 percent between the rates of youth voter registration and turnout and the voter registration and turnout of the population as a whole.

Estelle Rogers of Project Vote noted that her group is engaged in a year-long project to register 100,000 high school students in five states. “Research shows that it is possible to create long-term change by encouraging life-long civic participation from young people,” said Rogers. “School-based voter registration drives are one of the best ways of accomplishing this change,” she added.

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ACLU-NJ Celebrates 50 Years on the Front Lines of Freedom

June 16, 2010
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Newark, N.J. - For five decades, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has been a gale force in the most critical social debates of our time and a vigilant guardian of civil rights for all.

In June, the ACLU-NJ will mark the 50th anniversary of its founding and celebrate its standing as one of the largest and most active affiliates in the nation. Created to counter the growing pressures on civil liberties in the state, the affiliate's first official meeting took place on the night of June 16, 1960. Since its start, the affiliate, which has continued to keep its headquarters in Newark, has seen its membership multiply nearly 10-fold, from 1,600 people to more than 15,000.

"We believe that the liberties in the Bill of Rights belong to every American, to all the people in New Jersey regardless of their political beliefs, race, religion or national origin," ACLU-NJ founder and longtime President Emil Oxfeld said in the original press release announcing the formation of the state's affiliate. "We believe these freedoms must be exercised if democracy in our state is to grow and thrive."

Oxfeld went on to list issues that desperately needed attention at the time - due process, racial discrimination, the separation of church and state, and freedom from censorship - all principles the ACLU still defends daily.

"While some of the issues raised in our cases over the years seem archaic by today's standards, many haven't changed at all," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, who has led the affiliate since 1999, including during the biggest membership spike in its history. "The law has advanced remarkably in areas like women's rights, lesbian and gay rights, and safeguarding personal privacy, but with issues like free speech, police practices and religious freedom, no fight ever stays won."

"The ACLU of New Jersey has been a leader in the crucial civil liberties battles of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the national ACLU. "While each new era brings a wave of assaults on freedom, the ACLU of New Jersey responds swiftly and decisively, protecting the rights of all Garden State residents. It has proven its value on the American political landscape."

Since opening its doors and springing into action - its first official undertaking was commending the Clifton Library's stance against banning books like Lady Chatterley's Lover - the ACLU-NJ has doggedly worked for justice and equality in New Jersey.

In its first decade the ACLU-NJ took strong action following the 1967 Newark Rebellion. Staffers took to the streets in the aftermath, painstakingly cataloguing police abuses to the ACLU-NJ would refer to in its demands for reform. The New Jersey affiliate also emerged even more progressive than the national ACLU, becoming one of the first state affiliates to take a stand against the Vietnam War.

Since those early years, the ACLU-NJ has grown into one of the country's largest and most active state affiliates, with a record of milestones that has earned it a role on the national stage. Among its accomplishments, the ACLU-NJ:

  • Defended the rights of women in schools, from a tennis star (represented by Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who won the right to play on the high school boys' tennis team, to the Princeton student who turned its Ivy League all-male eating clubs co-ed.
  • Blocked a bill requiring a "one-minute period of silence" for prayer in public schools in 1983.
  • Defended 12 motorists who had been racially profiled on the New Jersey Turnpike in the late 1990s.
  • Propelled New Jersey to become the first state in the nation to grant equal standing to gay and lesbian couples jointly adopting in 1997.
  • Successfully challenged the state's ban on late-term abortion in 1998 and a law requiring parents to sign off on a minor's abortion in 2000.
  • Challenged secret detentions and organized locally, fending off attempts to chip away at individual rights following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Defeated local laws written to exclude immigrants from housing, won humane working conditions for immigrants, and helped enforce the rights of young immigrants to attend public school.
  • Established stronger First Amendment protections in schools and malls, as well as developments run by homeowners associations.

The ACLU-NJ is celebrating the clients, attorneys, leaders and volunteers - many involved in the cases highlighted above - who have built its legacy, from its founders to its future. The stories of these 50 Faces of Liberty can be found at the ACLU-NJ website, http://www.aclu-nj.org

"Society has changed dramatically since our founding, but we've never lost the fire that fuels the ACLU's advocacy," Jacobs added. "We can't always predict what challenges lie ahead for liberty in a changing world, but whatever they are, the ACLU stands ready to defend the fundamental rights of ordinary Americans."

The year-long commemoration will culminate November 4 at the NJ Freedom Fest: A night of laughter and liberties, hosted by comedian Jimmy Tingle and featuring faces from the ACLU past and present, to be held at the Heldrich Hotel in New Brunswick.

Newark's Public Housing Opens Doors to Free Speech

March 11, 2010
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NEWARK - The ACLU-NJ announced a free speech victory yesterday for Newark's political candidates, who will now be able to extend their campaigns within the walls of Newark's public housing complexes.

"The right to engage in political activity is fundamental to American democracy," said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. "Fortunately, candidates in Newark can now exercise their right to campaign freely, and residents of Newark will have the right to tap into the free flow of information."

The Housing Authority drafted a new rule and clarified existing ones after the ACLU-NJ contacted the housing authority expressing concern after hearing reports from City Council hopefuls John Sharpe James, Darrin Sharif and Louis Shockley that the NHA had silenced their constitutionally protected speech.

As in previous years — and as famously documented in the film Street Fight chronicling the candidacy of Newark Mayor Cory Booker — office-seekers reported their thwarted attempts to talk to residents door-to-door and use community rooms for campaign events. One candidate reported that the housing authority forced him to leave an outdoor townhouse complex where he had tried to make contact with voters, shutting residents out of the political process as a result.

After ACLU-NJ prodding, the housing authority confirmed that candidates can now hold political events in apartments' community rooms, discuss campaign issues door-to-door with tenants in townhouse complexes, and accept invitations from public housing residents to speak at political discussions in their homes — under the condition that tenants' associations play no role in the process.

"All I want as a candidate is the right to share my ideas with the residents of Newark, and to then let the residents decide for themselves," said Darrin Sharif, a candidate for Central Ward councilman. "I'm grateful that I can now participate in the democratic process without barriers between me and the people I hope to serve."

The ACLU-NJ has previously challenged numerous Newark policies and actions that infringed on free speech, including: Newark police arresting a newspaper publisher for refusing to turn over photographs the police did not want him to publish, an unconstitutional requirement for people to buy expensive liability insurance before holding marches or demonstrations, and a requirement that anyone distributing leaflets meet the police chief's standards for "good moral character."

In 2008, just as the City Council passed an ordinance firmly ending the insurance requirement, the ACLU-NJ was forced to write another letter to challenge the new ordinance — this time requiring a group of 15 people to secure a permit before gathering or walking down the street. In January 2010, after years of ACLU-NJ advocacy, the City Council finally passed a new ordinance that resolves many of the City's problematic permit policies.

ACLU-NJ To Protect Voters' Rights This Election Day

November 1, 2009
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Newark — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and League of Women Voters of New Jersey (LWVNJ) will again team up this Election Day, November 3, to offer help to voters statewide and to collect information that sheds light on how well our election systems work. The ACLU-NJ and LWVNJ will assist voters who have questions or experience problems through our voter assistance hotline, 1-800-792-VOTE, near several New Jersey polling sites, and at county election courts.

"The League of Women of New Jersey and ACLU-NJ are committed to safeguarding democracy and voting rights as New Jersey heads to the polls," said Anne Ruach Nicolas, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. "Through the hotline, at the polls, and in the courthouses, New Jersey voters can reach us, quickly and easily, to report issues and for assistance."

Unfortunately, a New Jersey Supreme Court decision in September limited the ability to help voters and document problems this year. The court banned all exit polling — including by media organizations — and voter education within 100 feet of a polling site, overstepping the intentions of laws protecting voters from intimidation. The organizations' voter protection efforts will shift focus this year to a strong presence on its voter hotline and at election courts in light of this recent decision, which severely limits Election Day free speech.

As in years past, volunteer attorneys will be available in some counties to represent voters turned away from the polls who then petition the court for the right to vote. However, this year, the ACLU-NJ and LWVNJ want to call attention to a particular problem reported last year in several counties involving deputy attorneys general (DAGs), who represent the counties' side in disputes over voters' eligibility. Would-be voters who had filed court applications to vote did not have the information they needed to understand that DAGs who asked them for detailed information were entitled to use their responses in legal arguments against them. The ACLU-NJ has developed a Know Your Rights in the Courthouse (258k PDF) publication, which volunteers will distribute to voters at courthouses on Election Day.

"Our voter protection efforts bring transparency to election systems that operate far too often behind a curtain," said Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ Executive Director. "The information we gather enables us to provide the most comprehensive analysis of weaknesses in New Jersey's election systems, one of which is lack of collection and analysis of the complaints the state itself receives."

The LWVNJ and ACLU-NJ will staff the hotline, 1-800-792-VOTE, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day, November 3, to answer voters' questions and offer assistance with problems voters may encounter at the polls. The League's voter assistance hotline is available year-round.

Read the ACLU-NJ and LWVNJ report — Making Every Vote Count: 2008 Elections (1.7mb PDF) — on elections issues that arose during the 2008 elections, including recommendations for poll monitor training and voter education.

ACLU-NJ Issues Report on 2008 Elections

May 12, 2009
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TRENTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the League of Women Voters New Jersey today released a report on voting rights problems (2mb PDF) encountered during the 2008 elections, calling once again for same-day voter registration, better state analysis and more comprehensive poll worker training, among other steps toward reform. While the nation experienced unprecedented voter turnout in the June and November 2008 elections, including in our state with millions of New Jerseyans successfully casting their vote in the historic presidential race, voting rights advocates documented a number of problems at the polls that interfered with the right to vote.

"A truly successful election is when every eligible voter casts a counted ballot," said Anne Ruach Nicolas, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. "I applaud the improvements that have been made, but there is more work to be done."

The ACLU-NJ and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey undertook the largest voter protection effort in state history, placing over 200 advocates on phone lines, at the polls and in the county courthouses, collecting 741 complaints statewide.

The effort sought not only to resolve voter problems on the Election Days, but also to provide a much-needed analysis of the state and county processes, with an emphasis on where to focus resources and how to improve operations.

Citizens reported numerous irregularities in attempting to vote, including:

  • Voters not provided with provisional ballots
  • Misinformation from poll workers, including instructions to vote at the wrong polling site
  • Improper requests for identification
  • Inoperable machines
  • Shortages of supplies at the polls

In addition to identifying problem areas, the report notes a number of improvements in New Jersey voting systems. Communication improved between advocates and the Division of Elections and county elections offices, so complaints were resolved more quickly. This election saw greater focus on the Motor Vehicle Commission's compliance with the federal Motor Voter Law, resulting in 800,000 new registrations from the MVC, tripling the numbers from 2006, when New Jersey was ranked number 42 out of the 43 states to register voters at state vehicle agencies. Additionally, the publication of comprehensive, uniform and accessible poll worker training guides improved poll worker performance from last election, and increased cooperation from Essex and Hudson County elections and corrections officials resulted in 420 eligible citizens in jail voting.

In addition to analyzing complaints and identifying trends, the LWVNJ and ACLU-NJ have provided a number of recommendations, many of which are based on best practices in other states, to help reform New Jersey voting systems.

"We don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to voting systems, since other states have already found ways to solve many of the problems New Jersey faces," said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director for the ACLU-NJ. "We just need the will and the resources to improve voting rights in New Jersey."

The key recommendations focus on improving poll worker training and performance; recording, tracking and addressing voter complaints and problems; and educating and assisting voters. In addition, the report recommends that New Jersey follow the lead of the Ohio Secretary of State by convening a public summit on a wide array of voting and election administration issues. Discussions were led by election officials, voting rights advocates, academics and legislators, and the conference produced a 109-page report that evaluated various methods for improving elections. We believe New Jersey should emulate Ohio's lead and convene a similar event in our state every year.

This report is the 2nd report co-authored by the ACLU-NJ and LWVNJ documenting problems, improvements and recommendations for solutions in the state.

Resources

ACLU-NJ Launches Largest-Ever Voter Protection Effort

November 2, 2008
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Advocates prepare for potential Election Day problems

Newark - Today the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey announced its largest voter advocacy effort ever for Tuesday's election, with more than 175 volunteer poll monitors and attorneys available to assist voters at most county courthouses. The organization also registered nearly 700 pre-trial detainees to vote in Essex and Hudson County correctional facilities.

"With the heightened interest we've seen throughout this election, we're preparing for potential problems and we're redoubling our efforts," said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director for the ACLU-NJ. "We want to make sure that every eligible citizen has the right to vote and that every vote counts."

The ACLU-NJ, with the help of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Education Fund, will deploy poll monitors throughout New Jersey to hand out voting rights cards, answer voter questions and assist individuals whose voting rights are denied. Unfortunately, the State has limited the number of monitors that the ACLU-NJ can deploy to one per polling location. In addition, poll monitor access to voters is constricted due to an Attorney General rule requiring anyone wishing to distribute information -- even non-partisan voter rights cards -- to stay 100 feet away from the polling places. The ACLU-NJ has challenged this rule in court and has an appeal pending before the State Supreme Court that will not be heard until long after the last ballots this election are cast.

ACLU-NJ attorneys will be on hand in 13 county courthouses to provide legal assistance and observe how voters' claims are adjudicated. The New Jersey Public Advocate has also said it will have attorneys available to assist voters in many county courthouses.

"Voters who go to court to challenge denied votes need to know that the representatives of the Attorney General are not there to represent them, but to work on behalf of the Board of Elections," said Ed Barocas, ACLU-NJ Legal Director. "Voters who seek assistance can turn to attorneys from the ACLU-NJ or the Office of the Public Advocate, who will be available at various courthouses around the state to represent them."

The ACLU-NJ and LWVNJ will staff its Vote Line, 1-800-792-VOTE, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day to answer voters' questions and offer assistance with problems voters may encounter at the polls.

Our Active Voting Rights Advocacy

  • Proper Distribution of Provisional and Emergency Ballots.

Improper distribution of both provisional ballots -- ballots for people who believe they are registered to vote but are told they cannot -- and emergency ballots for machine malfunctions has proven a recurring problem in past elections. This year especially is important because several counties have said they may not be able to process all new voter registrations in time for Election Day.

"Knowing to provide provisional ballots is critically important this year in particular," said Jacobs. "Several counties have said that they may not be able to process all new voter registrations in time for Election Day -- meaning thousands of eligible voters could have their right to vote challenged because of the State's inaction." The ACLU-NJ has urged the State to provide all resources necessary to help counties process every registration before the polls open tomorrow.

  • Our Lawsuit to Certify Voting Machines.

The accuracy of voting machines has also raised concerns for the ACLU-NJ, which has joined the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic lawsuit Gusciora v. Codey, which concerns the fact that New Jersey's electronic voting machines cannot be adequately certified or examined, as demanded by New Jersey law. As part of the case, the ACLU-NJ had to fight for the release of a report by Princeton University experts who tested the state's Sequoia voting machines and found that they are highly susceptible to hacking; the court finally released the report on October 17. The ACLU-NJ has also objected to the State's continual delays in adding voter verified paper trails to electronic voting machines.

  • Securing the Right to Vote for Citizens Who Have Past Criminal Convictions.

This year, the ACLU-NJ registered about 500 pre-trial detainees to vote in Essex County Jail and over 150 in Hudson County Jail.

"The corrections officials in both Hudson and Essex counties have been incredibly helpful to the ACLU-NJ in assisting citizens who are in jail exercise their right to vote," said Barocas. "These people have not been convicted of a crime and are innocent until proven guilty -- and therefore eligible to vote."

Before the voter registration deadline, the ACLU-NJ contacted the 21 county elections offices and found that more than one third -- eight in total -- illegally demand unnecessary documents from former prisoners trying to register to vote. These counties incorrectly stated that documentation was required to verify the completion of their criminal sentence in order to register.

The ACLU-NJ requested that the Division of Elections send written clarification to the offending counties to inform them that the law does not require citizens who have completed criminal sentences to provide extra documentation when registering. The Division of Elections has not responded to ACLU-NJ requests for a copy of such notices to the counties, and it has not confirmed whether any were sent. Following tomorrow's election, the ACLU-NJ will continue its advocacy with the Division of Elections requesting better training and education of those working in elections.

Our Concerns

One of the ACLU-NJ's top concerns is whether state and county governments will track voting problems from the polls to the courthouse. The State Division of Elections does not report on election problems and solutions, making it difficult to understand why problems happened and therefore making it a challenge to resolve them.

"Information about what goes wrong at the polls hasn't been well documented or analyzed by elections officials in the past, making recurring problems worse," said Jacobs. "That leaves advocacy groups to recommend changes needed to make elections as successful as possible -- a task that really should be the duty of the state."

The ACLU-NJ has advocated for improvements to New Jersey voting systems and met with the Secretary of State and elections officials on several occasions -- as recently as last month. In September, the ACLU-NJ sent a letter urging the Division of Elections to take critical steps before Election Day to help ensure voting rights, including making the "Am I registered?" inquiry form on the Division of Elections website more functional; clarifying the language on the website concerning identification requirements; and providing counties with standard procedures concerning county-based intake of voting complaints.

The Divisions of Elections has not responded, and it does not appear that any recommendations have been implemented.

Read the ACLU-NJ and LWVNJ report on elections issues that arose during the February presidential primary, which includes recommendations for poll monitor training and voter education.

ACLU-NJ Client Takes Down Town's Lawn Sign Restrictions

August 7, 2008
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HAWTHORNE - An ACLU-NJ client who challenged the borough of Hawthorne's unconstitutional ordinance banning political lawn signs won his battle last night when the Hawthorne Council unanimously agreed to rescind the ban in its monthly meeting.

"The Borough was wrong to threaten me with fines and then issue me a ticket. I'm relieved that they are going to take the ordinance off the books," said ACLU-NJ client Andy Gause, who had been forced to take down his Ron Paul signs. "Local governments need to be held accountable when they violate the constitution."

The ACLU-NJ represented Gause after he was issued a citation in April for displaying signs supporting Ron Paul's candidacy. The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Newark, challenged the town's ban of political signs except for 32 days before an election and seven days after.

The borough decided to settle soon after the suit began and, acknowledging that Gause raised "legitimate concerns regarding the First Amendment," the borough has promised to amend the ordinance to eliminate time limits on political signs and not enforce the current ordinance while it is still on the books.

"Ordinances like this one are cropping up all over New Jersey - this isn't by any means isolated," said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. "Even if the restrictions aren't being enforced, the ordinances will have a chilling effect. Until they are taken off the books, we will continue fighting them."

The ACLU-NJ is now investigating an ordinance in North Plainfield banning lawn signs - the most severe the organization has seen. There, no one can hang a sign except for within 10 days before an election and until 72 hours after.

In June, the ACLU-NJ also came to the aid of a Barack Obama supporter whom the Borough of Shrewsbury warned that if she didn't remove her sign, she would risk a summons. That borough is not enforcing the ordinance and is planning to eliminate the ban.

Visit Gause v. Borough of Hawthorne for a copy of the ordinance rescinding the sign restriction and the complaint.