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.