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Rutgers Univ. Student Assembly (RUSA) v. Middlesex County Bd. of Elections

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

November 19, 2014

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY STUDENT ASSEMBLY (RUSA), MATTHEW CODEIRO, JOHN CONNELLY, GABRIELA AGATA GRYZBOWSKI, BETH ROSE BRESLAW, EDWARD JAMES VASCONCELOS III, BON-JIN KUN, ANNALEE SWITEK, LATINO LEADERSHIP ALLIANCE OF NEW JERSEY (LLANJ), NEW JERSEY CITIZEN ACTION (NJCA), and the AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW JERSEY (ACLU-NJ), Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
MIDDLESEX COUNTY BOARD OF ELECTIONS and DANIEL FRANKEL, COMMISSIONER OF REGISTRATIONS OF MIDDLESEX COUNTY, Defendants-Respondents

Argued November 5, 2014.

Approved for Publication November 19, 2014.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. C-85-11.

Frank Askin and Renee Steinhagen argued the cause for appellants (Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation, and Appleseed Public Interest Law Center, attorneys; Mr. Askin, Edward Barocas, and Ms. Steinhagen, on the briefs).

George N. Cohen, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondents ( John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney; Donna Kelly, Assistant Attorney General; of counsel; Mr. Cohen, on the brief).

Before Judges KOBLITZ, HAAS and HIGBEE. The opinion of the court was delivered by HAAS, J.A.D.

OPINION

Page 409

[438 N.J.Super. 94] HAAS, J.A.D.

In this case of first impression, plaintiffs appeal from the December 11, 2013 order of the Chancery Division, granting [438 N.J.Super. 95] defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissing plaintiffs' complaint challenging the constitutionality of N.J.S.A. 19:31-6.3(b), which requires all eligible persons to register to vote no later than twenty-one days prior to an election. Plaintiffs also appeal the denial of their motion for summary judgment. Because the trial court did not make adequate findings of fact and conclusions of law concerning defendants' justification for maintaining the twenty-one-day advance registration requirement in the face of the evidence submitted by plaintiffs that the requirement is no longer necessary to protect the integrity of the electoral process, we are constrained to reverse both decisions and remand for further proceedings.

I.

A.

As background, it is helpful to begin with the requirements New Jersey citizens must meet in order to vote in elections. Under our State Constitution:

Every citizen of the United States, of the age of 18 years, who shall have been a resident of this State and of the county in which he claims his vote 30 days, next before the election, shall be entitled to vote for all officers that now are or hereafter may be elective by the people, and upon all questions which may be submitted to a vote of the people[.]
[ N.J. Const. art. II, § 1, ¶ 3(a).]

N.J.S.A. 19:31-1 provides that " [no] person shall be permitted to vote at any election unless such person shall have been registered in the manner" provided by law. In pertinent part, the statute at issue in this appeal, N.J.S.A. 19:31-6.3(b), states:

Any person entitled to register to vote may register as a voter in the election district in which that person resides at any time prior to the 21st day preceding any election by completing a registration form . . . and submitting the form to the commissioner of registration of the county wherein the person resides or alternatively, in the case of a registration form provided by the employees or agents of a public agency or a voter registration agency, . . . to those employees or agents or to the Attorney General.

An eligible person may register to vote in person or by mail. N.J.S.A. 19:31-6. Blank registration forms are available to be [438 N.J.Super. 96] downloaded from the internet. " A registration form postmarked, stamped or otherwise marked as having been received from the registration applicant, on or before the 21st day preceding any election shall be deemed timely." N.J.S.A. 19:31-6.3(b).

Individuals may register to vote at numerous governmental offices, and registration forms are available in English and a variety of other languages. All 565 municipal clerks and the twenty-one county commissioners of registration are required to provide individuals with voter registration applications and information. N.J.S.A. 19:31-6.

" Public agencies" [1] must also accept voter registration applications. N.J.S.A. 19:31-6.3.

Page 410

In addition, many other governmental entities[2] are designated as " voter registration agencies" and are required to engage in active voter registration activity, which includes displaying voter registration information and providing registration application forms to citizens. N.J.S.A. 19:31-6.11(b). Individuals can also obtain forms through voter registration drives ...


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