Institute’s New Report Proposes Bold Reforms to Increase Voter Turnout
Based on Interviews with Newark Residents, Our Vote, Our Power: Lifting Up Democracy’s Voices in the Garden State Proposes 11 Policies Including Lowering the Voting Age; Mandatory Civics Classes; Restoring the Vote to Incarcerated People; Same Day Registration; Term Limits; Full-Time Legislature; and Eliminating the “Party Line”
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released Our Vote, Our Power: Lifting Up Democracy’s Voices in the Garden State, a report identifying barriers to voter participation in New Jersey and proposing policy recommendations to directly address them. A pdf copy of the report can be found here.
The release of the report coincides with the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which enshrined the right to vote into the U.S. Constitution.
Consistent with the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s core belief that the best way to understand behavior is by listening to the community – and that the best way to make policy change is “from the ground up” – the Institute commissioned Topos Partnership, a national research firm with election and voting research experience, to interview Newark residents about why they think people don’t vote. A video of select interviews with Newark residents can be found here.
“Low voter turnout is a persistent problem in this country, and New Jersey is no exception. In Newark, despite the return of local control of the School Board and the years of advocacy by parents and students in support of it, fewer than five percent of residents voted in the April 2018 School Board election,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Speaking with community members themselves allowed us to identify concrete barriers to voter participation, and then propose focused democracy-expanding policy recommendations to ameliorate them – policies that will make New Jersey a national leader when it comes to having a robust, inclusive democracy. Especially in chaotic national times like these, New Jersey cannot wait for democracy to come down to us from Washington D.C. We must build our democracy from the ground up, as we recently did with the passage of several historic voting reform bills. The proposals in this report seek to continue to further expand democracy in New Jersey.”
Through interviews with Newark residents, the Institute identified four primary barriers to voter participation and then proposed bold policy recommendations to directly address each of them. (Barriers and Policy Recommendations are listed below.)
“By listening to voices in the community, we learned that the causes for low voter turnout, including the root cause behind voters’ lack of interest or discouragement from participation, were systemic issues like access to information, feelings of disempowerment, restricted voting rights, and obstacles to casting a vote,” said Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy & Justice Program at the Institute and the primary author of the report. “We need to build a culture that values voting and the right to vote. The good news is that there are ways for us to achieve this – and, with community advocacy and political will, we can get there.”
“Through listening to the needs of communities, New Jersey has already made significant progress in expanding democracy in our state, including restoring voting rights to people on parole and probation, instituting online and automatic voter registration, and ending prison-based gerrymandering,” said Andrea McChristian, Director of Law & Policy at the Institute. “The policy recommendations in this report aim to build on this groundbreaking advocacy to further expand democratic participation in New Jersey.”
Below is a summary of the voting barriers and policy recommendations presented in the report:
Voting Barrier I: Lack of Voter Knowledge
Policy Recommendations: Mandatory Civics classes; November elections only; Eliminate barriers to candidate information and voting for non-English speakers and people with disabilities
Voting Barrier II: Systemic Barriers to Voting
Policy Recommendations: Required paid time off to vote; Minimum early voting requirements; Same-day registration
Voting Barrier III: A Restricted Electorate
Policy Recommendations: Restore vote to incarcerated people; Lower voting age
Voting Barrier IV: Limitations to Representative Democracy
Policy Recommendations: End the “party line”; Full-time Legislature with full-time wage; Term limits for local offices
An Executive Summary of Our Vote, Our Power can be found here.
More information can be found here.
The New Jersey Institute for social justice is a Newark-based organization with a mission is to empower urban residents to realize and achieve their full potential. Established in 1999 by Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein, the Institute is known for its dynamic and independent advocacy aimed at toppling load-bearing walls of structural inequality to create just, vibrant, and healthy urban communities.