A New Jersey appeals court has rejected a constitutional challenge to the state’s requirement that would-be voters register at least 21 days before an election.
In a published ruling, the three-judge Appellate Division panel said in Rutgers University Student Association v. Middlesex County Board of Elections that the 21-day deadline does not amount to an undue burden on citizens who want to exercise their right to vote. The lawsuit was filed by the Rutgers University student body governing association. Appellate Division Judge Michael Haas, joined by Judges Thomas Manahan and Mitchel Ostrer, on July 1 upheld a decision by Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Heidi Currier to dismiss the lawsuit. A separate panel two years ago remanded the case to Currier, with the demand that she more fully explain why the 21-day deadline codified in N.J.S.A. 19:31-6.3(b) did not impose an onerous burden.
“[W]e conclude that the statute furthers the fundamental state interest in preserving the integrity of New Jersey’s electoral process, while imposing no unreasonable burden upon plaintiffs’ right to vote,” Haas said. The plaintiffs argued the 21-day pre-election registration requirement is no longer necessary because paper records, once maintained at the county level, have been replaced by the Statewide Voter Registration System. The system allows state and county registration officials to verify, almost instantaneously, whether the registration is valid. If the registrant had been voting in another jurisdiction, that prior registration is automatically canceled.
The system also verifies within 24 hours a registrant’s right to vote through checks with the state Department of Corrections and the State Parole Board. Provisional ballots cast on the day of the election can be verified within 24 hours through the system, Haas said.