Allowing 16-year-olds to work on election day and letting students possibly earning undergraduate credit for serving as election workers inched closer to reality in the state of New Jersey Thursday. Assembly Bill 3733 went through a second reading in this afternoon. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shama Haider (LD37), Assemblyman Sterley Stanley (LD18), Assemblyman Daniel Benson (LD14) and co-sponsored by Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen (LD17), would allow for institutions of higher learning to assemble a program which would allow students to earn an academic credit towards an undergraduate degree for each day said students worked as a poll worker for an election.
The effort is designed to incentivize students and youth to become more engaged in the civic process, and provide more workers for a job which is traditionally staffed by retirees. Given the extraordinary cost of higher education in general, the program—if enacted—would provide a valuable asset for students in New Jersey. Crucially, the academic institutions themselves, however, would need to produce the guidelines in which their program could operate so as not to outsource classroom learning credit simply for state service.
In a similar vein, Assembly Bill 1969, also undergoing a second reading, would allow for minors to work as election workers between 5:30 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. on the day of an election. This amends existing labor law which spells out the conditions by which a minor can work with respect to industry, school state, sports, and other considerations.
A1969 along with A3733 would greatly enhance the potential pool of electoral workers through a combination of academic incentives for college students and allowing those in high school to serve. A1969 specifically sets the expanded age range as applying to those 16-18.
A1969 carried easily.
The state legislation comes at a time when renewed interest in further lowering the voting age from 18 to 16 has appeared in the national conversation. Representatives Grace Meng (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) had introduced legislative amendments to lower the voting age to allow minors a political say last year. In New Jersey, Westfield Councilman David Contract and some Westfield high school students have launched an initiative called Vote16NJ with the goal of letting 16-year-olds vote in local elections. Vote16NJ had reportedly met with Senate President Nick Scutari to discuss the idea three months ago where Scutari was warm to the concept. The rationale behind lowering the voting age to 16 is that if voters are engaged earlier in life, they will become more engaged in the civic process long-term. Nevertheless, to enact that kind of change would require a state constitutional amendment.
By allowing college students to earn credit for their undergraduate degree, those already of voting-age have a valuable incentive to offer their time and service as poll workers. For those 16- and 17-year-olds who want to be able to serve as election workers, it seems likely that additional discussions would be expected as far as further expanding the voting franchise in turn.
A3733 was Assemblywoman Haider’s first bill put forward. It passed with 76 in favor, 1 against, and no abstentions to a round of applause.