Governor's veto of N.J. Democracy Act leaves walls in place
In his single-minded pursuit of the White House and the right-wing base he hopes will put him there, Gov. Christie has made decisions that do a grave disservice to New Jersey residents.
Early on, he put the brakes on a tunnel into Manhattan that would have eased congestion for millions of commuters, for example, and more recently he sold out the state by accepting a ridiculously low settlement from Exxon Mobil for befouling our air and water.
There's more. But this week's veto of a comprehensive voting-rights bill – a bill robustly supported by both parties in Trenton – takes political expediency to a whole new level.
In an expected but still disappointing move, the Republican governor said no to the N.J. Democracy Act, which was designed to make voting easier through a series of reforms which included enhanced early-voting opportunities and automatic registration for eligible voters applying for driver's licenses.
Making voting easier for residents of his state is clearly not a priority for Christie, and why should it be? He rode to re-election in 2013 with the lowest turnout in state history for a gubernatorial race.
That abysmal showing was echoed earlier this month, when a sorry 21 percent of registered voters showed up at the polls for statewide elections.
Representative government suffers a body blow in the absence of participation. The sweeping reforms the governor swept under the rug would have resulted in a more robust democracy.
The measure had broad support from a diverse coalition of community, labor, environmental and civic organizations, whose representatives called it "a comprehensive voting modernization package."
We totally fail to see the logic in blocking legislation that would have allowed in-person early voting in every county and made it easier for the men and women in the armed services to vote while overseas.
Moreover, Christie's rationale that the bill would have opened the door to so-called voter fraud is way off base. If anything, online registration has the potential to produce more accurate and up-to-date voter lists, permitting increased vigilance and monitoring.
So where do we go from here? There's talk of turning the matter over to the people who matter most – New Jersey residents – in the form of a referendum.
Even before the veto, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) said he was open to asking voters to amend the state Constitution to implement the proposed changes.
Whatever direction this takes, expanding voter rights – as lawmakers in 23 states and Washington D.C. have done in recent years – must remain high on the Legislature's agenda, even if it doesn't suit Chris Christie's political aspirations.