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The Trailblazer

Governor Murphy signs New Voter Empowerment Act

New Jersey Governor signs historic legislation allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections
Governor+Murphy+signs+New+Voter+Empowerment+Act
Denise Cross Photography via Creative Commons

Editor’s note: Any opinions presented in the article are the writer’s own and are not representative of the Trailblazer staff. 

On Jan. 4, 2024, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the New Voter Empowerment Act, allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they turn 18 by the next general election. This legislation will take effect in 2026, two years from now. 

New Jersey will join 19 other states and Washington, D.C., each having implemented similar laws.

This signing underscores the Governor’s consistent dedication to expanding democracy within New Jersey. It extends the progress made during the Murphy Administration, such as initiatives like automatic voter registration, in-person early voting, and the restoration of voting rights for individuals on probation or parole. 

“To strengthen our democracy, we must ensure that all eligible voters can participate in it. Across government, we see how the decisions we make today impact future generations. I am proud to sign legislation that expands access to the ballot box while engaging and empowering a new generation of voters,” said Murphy in a statement. 

Current law allows individuals who are at least 17-years-old to register for voting, provided they will reach the age of 18 by the time of the primary election. Until reaching their 18th birthday, the Statewide Registration System designates that individual as ineligible to vote. However, the New Voter Empowerment Act will change this, making it possible for people aged 17 to cast ballots in primary elections, as long as they become adults before the subsequent general election. 

While attempts to do this first surfaced in 2015, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie rejected the bill a year later, claiming his previous support of registration was not designed to be “a preliminary step toward underage, and potentially unconstitutional, voting.”

Eight years later, despite opposition from Republicans, the New Voter Empowerment Act was revisited, passing 24-11 in the Senate and 47-19 in the Assembly. 

Proponents of the new act have all agreed that this change will make a big difference in the New Jersey youth. 

“Meaningfully engaging young people in elections makes our democracy stronger and more inclusive,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

“Many teens look forward to voting in their first election and now, if they are turning 18 between June and November they will get a say in who’s on the ballot,” said State Senator Beach, “…we are allowing them to weigh in on which candidates they want representing their party in the general election, just like everyone else voting in November.”

State Senator Zwicker also gave his praise for the law, saying, “At a time when our politics are polarized and when too many people stay home on Election Day, it is time to engage and empower a new generation of voters so that they may have a say in the future of our great state.”

As young people have been highlighted as key forces in primary and general elections, it is more important than ever that the youth is engaged and ready to exercise their voting rights.   

The addition of 17-year-olds will help enhance voter inclusivity, civic participation, instill good voting habits, and ultimately inspire a younger generation to become voters for life.  

Governor Murphy’s legislation has also been met with some disapproval. Opponents to the law have argued that lowering the voting age to 17 may raise questions about the maturity and political awareness of this age group. 

Since the law will not be in effect for the next two major election cycles, including the presidential election, some opponents have also expressed questions about Murphy’s decision to delay the law’s enactment. 

Another fear, rooted particularly within the Republican party, is that the act might disproportionately benefit Democrats, as younger voters tend to lean towards the Democratic Party. 

This opposition reflects a broader discussion on the implications and potential consequences of expanding voting rights to 17-year-olds. Will this act promote more political engagement amongst younger voters or will it introduce a new bias into the voting process?

Nevertheless, the New Voter Empowerment Act is bound to have a significant influence on all New Jersey elections. Whether positive or negative, we will witness the outcome in two years.

Sources:

https://www.nj.com/politics/2024/01/nj-will-soon-let-17-year-olds-to-vote-in-primary-elections-as-murphy-signs-law.html 

https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562024/approved/20240104b.shtml https://newjerseymonitor.com/briefs/gov-murphy-signs-bill-to-allow-some-17-year-olds-to-vote-in-primary-elections/

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Alanna Karuru, Staff Writer

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