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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – New Jerseyans widely support the voting reforms included in the State Legislature’s recently passed Democracy Act that now awaits Gov. Chris Christie’s signature, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. Above all, residents are most supportive of increasing early in-person voting, at 67 percent versus 26 percent who oppose. Two-thirds are also in favor of automatic registration when applying for a driver’s license and printing voting materials in more languages; three in 10 are against each of these initiatives.
Fifty-nine percent support an online voter registration system, while 38 percent do not. The same number supports being able to register and cast a provisional ballot on Election Day, a reform that was ultimately taken out of the current bill; 29 percent oppose this measure.
New Jerseyans furthermore see these changes to the state’s voting system as mostly positive: 51 percent say they will help to increase voter turnout, while 30 percent say they will actually increase voter fraud. Another 9 percent say these reforms will do a little of both, and 10 percent are unsure.
But residents are largely unaware of a major reason for these changes: New Jersey ranks among the bottom 10 states in voter participation. Sixty percent wrongly place New Jersey somewhere in the middle when it comes to voter turnout, and 14 percent even say that the state’s turnout is higher than most others. Just 15 percent correctly guess that New Jersey is lower on this measure than most other states, while another 11 percent are unsure.
“Even if Gov. Christie vetoes the Democracy Act, public opinion for the State Legislature’s side could translate into success for some form of the bill as a ballot initiative in 2016,” said Ashley Koning, assistant director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University. “And this solid support exists even though few know how poorly our state does on voter participation: a third of eligible voters turned out in 2014, and just 5 percent voted in the most recent primaries.”
Results are from a statewide poll of 867 adults contacted by live callers on both landlines and cell phones from July 25 to August 1. The sample has a margin of error of +/-3.9 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish.
Republicans less likely to support changes, more negative on their presumed affect
Democrats and Republicans take predictable sides on the increasingly partisan issue of voter registration, though a majority of GOPers support two of the five measures. Just like New Jerseyans overall, Republicans are most likely to support increased early in-person voting, at 65 percent. Sixty-four percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats feel the same.
Republicans are also largely in favor of another measure that garners significant overall support – automatic registration at the Motor Vehicles Commission. That proposal gets thumbs up from 59 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of independents, and 77 percent of Democrats.
Even half of Republicans back Election Day registration and provisional voting. Over half of independents agree, as do two-thirds of Democrats. Just over a third of Republicans oppose this reform, compared to three in ten independents and two in 10 Democrats.
But support among GOP members in the Garden State looks vastly different from others on online registration and increasing multi-language voting materials. Republicans are split on both of these measures: 47 percent support an online voter registration system, while 51 percent oppose it, and 44 percent support printing voter materials in more languages, compared to 55 percent who oppose it. By comparison, an online system and especially multi-language materials get solid majority support from both Democrats (69 percent and 81 percent, respectively) and independents (56 percent and 64 percent, respectively).
Looking at the impact these measures will have, Democrats are the only ones to believe firmly that they will increase voter turnout, at 61 percent. Independents are mixed, with 49 percent saying the changes will help with turnout, while 31 percent say the more likely outcome is increased fraud. Republicans are most likely to say these changes will lead to more fraud, at 43 percent, compared to 36 percent who say increased turnout.
“Voter registration has become an increasingly partisan issue over the past several election cycles, a reality reflected in these differences between partisans within New Jersey,” said Koning. “Nevertheless, Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike have a generally positive view on these reforms, and even Republicans are not wholly negative on their subsequent effect – a departure from the governor’s own stance and his presumed future veto.”
Voters vs. non-voters
While a majority of both groups supports each of these measures, those residents already registered to vote are slightly less supportive than those who are not. Voters and non-voters show the biggest disparities when it comes to an online system and printing materials in more languages. Registered voters are 10 points less likely to be in favor of registering online, 57 percent versus 67 percent of non-voters. Registered voters are 18 points less likely to support printing voter materials in even more languages, 63 percent to 81 percent among those not registered.
Voters are also more skeptical of the consequences of these changes than non-voters. Forty-nine percent of those currently registered say the reforms will increase voter turnout, while 32 percent say they will increase voter fraud. Those not currently registered are much more likely to say the changes will increase turnout, at 62 percent, with just 16 percent saying they will increase fraud.
Knowledge of New Jersey’s voter participation rate compared to that in other states does not significantly differ by current registration status.
Greatest support among those who might be helped most
Some components of the bill get the most support from those groups whose members are less likely to register and turn out to vote.
Non-white residents are more likely to support almost every measure than white residents, especially printing voter materials in more languages (78 percent, compared to 59 percent) and automatic registration when applying for a driver’s license (72 percent, compared to 63 percent). White residents are nine points more likely to believe these changes would lead to greater voter fraud.
Millennials are more likely to support each measure than any other age group, especially senior citizens. Those 18 to 34 years old are overwhelmingly in favor of Election Day registration (at 79 percent) and printing materials in more languages (at 84 percent). Senior citizens, on the other hand, do not reach majority support on Election Day registration (at 47 percent support) or an online system (at 41 percent support). This group is also slightly more likely to believe the reforms would encourage more fraud, at 31 percent, though 50 percent of senior residents say they would increase turnout.
While those in lower income brackets are less likely to register and vote, residents at all levels of income feel similarly about the reforms. Those in households making less than $50,000 annually are less likely to oppose Election Day registration than others (at 22 percent oppose) and more likely to support printing materials in more languages (75 percent support).