A state appeals panel today revived a lawsuit challenging New Jersey’s requirement that residents must register to vote no later than 21 days before an election, finding ample evidence suggesting the mandate may no longer be needed or constitutional. The challenge, filed in 2011 against the Middlesex County Board of Elections and the commissioner of registrations by several Rutgers University students and statewide advocacy groups, contended the requirement “severely burdens the right to vote” of New Jersey residents. They argued that burden outweighed any interest the county, and by extension, all counties and the state, had in maintaining the advance registration requirement, which was established in order to prevent voter fraud and ensure public confidence in the system.
A state Superior Court judge in December dismissed the complaint, finding the burden to register to vote to be minimal. But the three-judge appeals panel today reversed the decision and remanded the case to the lower court, finding the judge failed to consider evidence that a harm, even if minimal, may still outweigh the basis for the law given it may no longer be needed to prevent voter fraud.
The challenge stemmed from a dispute in which some of the students claimed they had registered to vote at least 21 days prior to an election, but when they arrived at their polling place, their names were not in the poll book. Three submitted provisional ballots, which were later deemed to be invalid. The fourth was not permitted to vote by provisional ballot.