(CN) – A New Jersey appeals court revived a challenge of voter-registration rules, citing “reams of evidence” that a 21-day deadline is unnecessary and infringes on citizens’ right to vote.
Under New Jersey law, a person who wishes to vote in the next election must register at least 21 days before Election Day.
Four organizations involved in voter-registration activities – Rutgers University Student Assembly, Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, New Jersey Citizen Action and American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey – challenged the 21-day advance-registration requirement, claiming that it unnecessarily restricts eligible citizens from casting a ballot.
Claiming that the U.S. Constitution permits voters to register on the same day as an election, these groups say “pre-election day registration requirements violate an individual’s constitutional right to vote,” as summarized Wednesday by the Superior Court’s Appellate Division.
Given that New Jersey has transitioned from paper election records to a computerized statewide voter-registration system, the plaintiffs say same-day registration is possible.
This database is cross-referenced with a potential voter’s identifying information from the Motor Vehicle Commission and the Social Security Administration.
Though New Jersey says advance registration combats voter fraud, the plaintiffs assert that the online database system eliminates the possibility of voter fraud there.
With New Jersey admitting that no one has voted under a false identity since the database came online in 2008, the plaintiffs offered a proposal.
They said an unregistered person could complete a provisional ballot on Election Day – a process already in place for individuals whose name is not in a location’s poll book – which the state could then confirm against its database and ensure that person did not already vote at another location.
Shutting these groups down, a judge in Middlesex found that the existing requirements put a “minimal” burden on voters.
A three-judge appellate panel remanded the case Wednesday based on the plaintiff’s evidence that, even if the burden was “minimal,” the state still had no support for its asserted justification for the advance-registration requirement – voter fraud.
The trial court made no findings regarding this issue thought the plaintiffs offered “reams of evidence, including certifications, reports, and deposition transcripts, in support of their contention that New Jersey’s SVRS has eliminated voter fraud as a valid concern,” according to the 22-page ruling.
Burdick v. Takushi, a 1992 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, says that “the character and magnitude of the asserted injury [to plaintiffs must] be weighed against the state’s interest in burdening its citizen’s right to vote,” the panel noted.
“Here it is not clear what evidence, if any, defendants presented in support of their contention that advance registration is still necessary,” Judge Michael Haas wrote for the court. “Moreover, the trial judge did not discuss plaintiffs’ proofs or make findings concerning whether the facts plaintiffs drew from those proofs were undisputed or whether a trial was necessary to resolve any disputes of material fact.”
On remand, the trial court must complete the second prong of the Burdick balancing test, which requires “detailed findings of fact supported by the record, and conclusions of law drawn from those facts,” the ruling concludes.
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