(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Jamel Holley, Elizabeth Muoio, Tim Eustace, Arthur Barclay, Angela McKnight and Raj Mukherji that would allow more young New Jersey residents to participate in elections was approved on Thursday by a Senate panel.
The bill (A-3591), the "New Voter Empowerment Act," would allow 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election provided they will turn 18 on or before the next succeeding general election.
"Young people in New Jersey are eager to raise their voices and make a difference," said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon/Mercer/Middlesex/Somerset). "More than 23,000 of them will have a birthday after the primary but before the general election. Under my legislation, they would be able to vote in both elections. It's an important step forward to fully empower thousands of new voters every year."
New Jersey would join 21 states and the District of Columbia in allowing 17-year-olds who will turn 18 during the interim period between a primary or caucus and the general election to participate in the nomination process, Zwicker noted.
"There's a whole set of young people in New Jersey who want to - and should - fulfill their civic duty during the general election but are shut out of making their voices heard during the primary," said Holley (D-Union). "Allowing 17-year-old New Jersey residents who ultimately will choose a candidate in the general election to vote in the primary will make the electoral process more fair."
"Many states permit eligible 17-year-olds to vote, because they recognize that making voters choose a candidate they had no say in nominating is fundamentally undemocratic," said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "All who can vote in a general election should be afforded the opportunity to engage in the primary, too."
"As a matter of principle, all eligible voters should be able to take part in both the primary and the general election," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This legislation will make that basic notion the law in New Jersey."
"Those who turn 18 in between a primary and a general election are expected to participate in one part of the democratic process but are excluded from another very important part entirely," said Barclay (D-Camden/Gloucester). "New Jersey must ensure that these young voters have a say in both June and November."
"It's important for our state to establish a culture of voting in both primaries and general elections among young people," said McKnight (D-Hudson). "Making this simple change will enable thousands more first-time voters to get involved in elections."
"Increasing voter turnout is integral to ensuring that all voices are heard and all people are represented in our democracy," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "If 17-year-olds are allowed to enlist and serve in the Armed Forces with parental consent or upon emancipation, then they should certainly be allowed to participate in selecting party nominees when they will turn 18 in time to vote for that nominee."
The bill was approved by the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee. The General Assembly passed the legislation, 57-17, in May.