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Election Process Reform

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...working to protect fair access to the election system...

We’re joining forces with other groups working to protect fair access to the election system and to increase public participation in elections. Together, we advocate for enfranchisement of all voters and a more representative political process.

Our primary activities are:

Implement and oversee the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in New Jersey

This includes establishing a model statewide election registration database, ensuring the counting of provisional ballots, requiring voting machines to produce a voter verified paper record that will be audited, and working to ensure uniform poll worker training. Renee Steinhagen, Executive Director of New Jersey Appleseed, is Chairperson of the New Jersey Citizens Coalition on the Implementation of HAVA, representing over thirty concerned groups. The Coalition is continuing to work with the Secretary of State’s office and the Association of Local Election Officials to ensure that NJ meets its obligation to fully implement the Act.

Strive for transparent, inclusive, and fair elections in New Jersey so that the will of the people prevails

We work to eliminate unfair advantages enjoyed by the state’s two largest political parties at the expense of the so-called “alternative” or “third” parties. As a non-partisan organization, we want to ensure fair play among all political parties, which benefits all voters. We also empower citizen groups to use the Initiative and Referendum Process (I&R) to introduce and pass measures when elected representatives are unresponsive to the will of the community. It is also critical that communities have the ability to enact “pay-to-play” and local “clean-election” ordinances to ensure that big campaign contributors don’t enjoy too much influence once the candidate they supported enters office. NJ Appleseed has also successfully fought cases of insider absentee ballot fraud. In all of these activities, the interests of the voting public are at the forefront of our goals.

Accomplishments:

Published a survey of NJ election processes with recommendations The New Jersey Citizens Coalition on the Implementation of HAVA produced a booklet entitled “Making New Jersey’s Votes Count,” which can be found on the Downloads page on this website.

Designed groundbreaking legislation requiring mandatory random audits of election results

Bills designed by The New Jersey Citizens’ Coalition on the Implementation of HAVA (Help America Vote Act), spearheaded by NJ Appleseed, passed in the NJ State Legislature on 12/17/07 (S507) and 1/8/08 (A2730). The bills make it mandatory for election officials to conduct random audits of election results, an essential tool in ensuring that outcome-reversing miscounts and fraud are detected. The passage of these bills puts New Jersey at the forefront of election administration reform, and the bills serve as model legislation for other states.

Helped win equal treatment for alternative political parties

In 2006, NJ Appleseed and Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady, LLP filed suit against the State of New Jersey on behalf of three alternative political parties, arguing that state statutes barring their clients from official “political party” recognition were unconstitutional and discriminatory. On October 17, 2007, a judge’s Consent Order granted equal treatment to alternative political parties in New Jersey. The Order eliminates some of the structural advantages long enjoyed by the Democratic and Republican Parties. The State conceded that New Jersey election law should treat alternative parties as official “political parties” for the purposes of campaign finance, lobbying, and voter registration.

Assisted rightful winner in Roselle election in absentee ballot fraud case

Christine Dansereau was seen as the ‘outsider’ candidate in the Union County Democratic Party’s 2006 primary for Roselle’s 5th Ward council seat. On election night, she emerged victorious – until the absentee ballots were counted. An astonishing 54 absentee ballots edged her opponent Rosemarie Bullock to a narrow win. Dansereau challenged the primary election results and, after a six-day trial, the lower court invalidated 31 of Bullock’s 54 absentee ballots due to improper ballot handling by Bullock’s campaign workers. Dansereau was reinstated as victor, and went on to win in the general election. Bullock appealed on the grounds that the court lacked sufficient evidence to invalidate the ballots, and NJ Appleseed stepped in to represent Dansereau and uphold the principle that elections should be free from abuse. The Appellate Division agreed, upholding the lower court’s decision to invalidate the questionable ballots. The case sparked a state criminal investigation into voter fraud.

Won victories for NJ voters in the areas of registration and ballot integrity

The New Jersey Citizens Coalition on the Implementation of HAVA achieved a number of election process victories in the state when a slew of bills it developed were signed into law in 2004. Some of the requirements of those bills included: the creation of a statewide voter database, a voter-verified paper record printed by all voting machines, at least one disabled-accessible voting machine at all polling places, provisional ballots to be treated as voter registration forms, translated voter Bill of Rights, better voting machine instructions for voters, improved poll worker training, stronger protections for absentee ballots and stiffer penalties for voting offenses. NJ Appleseed has also acted to ensure that New Jersey complies with the federal Motor Voter Registration Act, which requires certain state agencies to serve as election registrar offices.

Past initiatives:

Proposed new legislation to improve NJ’s election processes (2007)

The New Jersey Citizens’ Coalition on the Implementation of HAVA introduced six pieces of legislation in June 2007 that it believed were needed to ensure the integrity of New Jersey’s elections. The mandatory audit bill was passed. The other five bills address inter-county provisional voting, voter assistance in Asian languages, verification procedures for voter registration information, training for poll workers, and requirements for voter registration agencies. Asian-language voter registration forms, which were promised by the state in 2004, finally became just as available as all other state voter registration forms in January 2008.

Formation of NJ Voting Machine Certification Task Force (2007)

NJ Appleseed formed a new task force to address standards for voting machines. The task force is co-chaired by Assemblyman Bill Baroni and former attorney general Zulima Farber, currently of Lowenstein Sandler. Participants include four local election officials, League of Women Voters, Essex County Voting Task Force, both the State Democratic and Republican parties, and students from a Princeton University program on computer technology and public policy. The task force will be examining NJ law and best practices in 6 other states, and will make recommendations for overhauling NJ election machine certification law.

Provide Assistance to Ocean City “Clean Elections” Activists (2007)

NJ Appleseed is helping a group of environmental activists pass an ordinance that would create publicly financed municipal elections. The activists want to reduce the influence of lobbyists and big-money donors like developers, who often succeed in securing large contracts after their favored candidates enter office. After a lower court incorrectly ruled that the city of Ocean City lacked the authority to pass a “clean elections” ordinance, the activists appealed. NJ Appleseed filed an amicus brief on behalf of several statewide and national groups including NJ Citizen Action, BlueWaveNJ, Public Campaign and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law in support of “clean elections,” and the importance of local action in the absence of state willingness to address the issue.

Empower Citizens in Jersey City (2007)

Civic JC is a group of “good government” activists in Jersey City. They are seeking to increase government accountability by enacting a series of local “Pay-to-Play” ordinances limiting campaign contributions to elected officials from those who hold contracts with the City, using a process known as “Initiative and Referendum” (I&R). The process of I&R empowers citizens to get ordinances on the ballot and enacted into law by the voters. In this case, Civic JC must utilize I&R because the Jersey City council recently voted down similar pay-to-play reforms.

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