|Project Vote Joins Petition for High School Registration Regulations in New Jersey|
TRENTON, NJ - The Department of the Public Advocate has joined a coalition of voting rights groups to file papers with the State Board of Education today proposing new regulations aimed at ramping up voter registration efforts in New Jersey schools.
Joining with two national nonpartisan advocacy groups, Project Vote and the Fair Elections Legal Network, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey in signing the petition, the Department of the Public Advocate has asked for rules to ensure all New Jersey high schools distribute voter registration forms to eligible seniors and educate them about the fundamental importance of voting. Additionally, the proposal would mandate that schools report to the state with details about their compliance with the law and the number of students they helped register.
Under a 1985 law signed by former Governor Thomas H. Kean, all New Jersey schools – public and private -- were required to offer eligible students voter registration forms and instruction about the importance of voting Schools’ voter registration and education efforts must be nonpartisan and cannot include campaigning for candidates, parties or ballot question.. The law also required the state education commissioner to adopt implementing regulations, but none have been issued in the intervening 24 years.
The lack of regulations has taken its toll. Recent studies have shown that 40 to 60 percent of public schools have not given voter registration forms to seniors nor taught them about the importance of voting as required by law, as cited in the groups’ petition.
Further, older citizens are more likely to vote than New Jersey’s youth. Only 52.5 percent of New Jersey citizens aged 18-24 cast ballots in the 2008 election compared to 64.1 percent of citizens of all other ages, according to the U.S. Census.
Many of the roughly 100,000 New Jersey high school students who turn 18 every year lack enough knowledge to register properly, and the petition suggests logical steps for students to bridge that gap. To ensure students understand how they can register to vote, the proposal would require that:
The proposed rules, the petitioners say, will “supply a heretofore missing mechanism that will ensure that all students receive a meaningful voter registration opportunity and the voter education materials to which they are legally entitled.”
ABOUT THE PETITIONERS
The New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate is charged with making government more accountable and responsive to the needs of New Jersey residents. The Public Advocate's Voting Rights Project seeks to protect the basic and fundamental right to vote belonging to every U.S. citizen.
Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to empower, educate, and mobilize low-income, minority, youth and other marginalized and under-represented voters.
Fair Elections Legal Network is a national, nonpartisan network of experienced private and organizational election lawyers who are involved in removing impediments to voter participation by traditionally under-represented constituents, including students.
The ACLU of New Jersey works to defend liberty and individual rights throughout New Jersey. Among other things, it has issued comprehensive reports on the state of voting rights and election administration in New Jersey.
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