Today, voters of color across the country are facing the greatest assault on their voting rights since the Jim Crow era. While some states are working to suppress voting access, New Jersey can join the growing list of states moving forward to protect the freedom to vote by adopting a state Voting Rights Act.
Since 2021 at least 59 restrictive voting laws have passed across more than 20 states. As states build barriers to the ballot box, Congress has not yet found the will to pass legislation to restore key protections and enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Now, we need forward-looking states to lead by example to protect our right to vote.
While New Jersey has taken recent steps to strengthen its democracy, barriers to voting for residents still remain, and are borne disproportionately by Black people, other people of color, people whose first language is not English, and people who have disabilities.
Voters of color in New Jersey are more likely than white voters to face long lines and late poll openings, limited physical accessibility of polling locations, and limited language access. In Newark, a majority-Black city and the most populous in the state, chronic logistical issues have burdened residents for years as they have regularly faced challenges at polling places without functional voting machines.
Meanwhile, voter accessibility continues to be a persistent challenge amongst voters of color, voters with disabilities, and older voters in New Jersey. A recent U.S. Election Assistance Commission study found that turnout rates for New Jersey voters with disabilities in the 2020 elections were 7.5% lower than rates for voters without disabilities. This disparity is especially concerning in light of the fact that polling places in New Jersey are often inaccessible and do not comply with ADA requirements.
Language access is also a persistent barrier for New Jersey voters. The federal VRA requires translated election materials for those who have limited English proficiency, but the protections only apply to a limited list of languages and also set a minimum population threshold of 10,000 people or 5% of a jurisdiction’s population. As a result, a significant number of New Jersey voters do not receive voting materials in the language they speak—either because their community falls under the population threshold or because they speak a language, like Arabic, that’s not covered at all.
These discriminatory barriers have caused substantial disparities in both voter registration and turnout rates between New Jersey residents of color and their white neighbors.
Such barriers to ballot access can also lead to widening disparities in other aspects of life. This is particularly true in New Jersey, where large racial divides in key socioeconomic indicators further reinforce the need for voting rights reform. Communities of color in the state disproportionately face low unemployment, high poverty rates, and less college education than their white counterparts do not have equal opportunity to meaningfully engage and participate in the electoral process.
By enacting a state Voting Rights Act, New Jersey can address these stark disparities in voting access, voter turnout and socioeconomic indicators—and better protect the fundamental right to vote.
State VRAS can provide key protections to their constituents that prevent and guard against discriminatory voting practices and policies. Learn more about LDF’s work to advance state VRAs
LDF Original Content
A tandem approach of restoring and expanding federal voting rights legislation along with passing individual state VRAs is essential for providing the most robust voting protections for all voters.
LDF Original Content
How States with discriminatory maps have shirked their responsibilities to their constituents, paving the way for the passage of oppressive legislation.
2020 saw a dramatic increase in attempts to suppress the vote of Black, Latinx, and other minority-community voters. Democracy Defended captures and analyzes LDF’s work during the 2020 election season, including our Prepared to Vote and Voting Rights Defender initiatives. It provides documentation of barriers faced by Black voters in PTV/VRD focus states and solutions for policy makers, election administrators, and community members to implement to ensure fair access to the vote in future elections.