A handful of Essex County legislators stood alongside the state’s largest watchdog coalition Thursday on the lawn of the to protest against a proposed voter ID law that is said to disenfranchise elderly, minority, and poor voters.
“What a giant step backwards,” said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex) about voter ID laws which have been passed across the country. “It is a thinly veiled attempt to oppress votes, and particularly votes of those who might tend to vote Democratic.”
Assemblywomen Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Grace Spencer (D-Essex), and Congressional candidate joined McKeon along with New Jersey Citizen Action at the Renna House to speak against the laws.
New Jersey currently does not have voter identification laws. However, three Republican state legislators -- Senator Christopher Connors (R-Ocean), Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove (R-Ocean), and Assemblyman Brian Rumpf (R-Ocean) -- sponsored bills earlier this year that would require voters to present state or federal photo identification, such as a valid driver’s license, when casting a ballot.
Since 2011, 16 states passed restrictive voting identification laws, according to the Brennan Center For Justice. Of these, 10 states currently have them in effect. Pennsylvania was the most recent state to implement a voter ID law when it was upheld by a judget on Wednesday.
“Although we don’t see these laws going anywhere anytime soon [in New Jersey],” said Jasey, “I think that it’s a wake-up call, especially in light of what is happening in Pennsylvania, which I find to be frightening.”
McKeon, former mayor of West Orange, likened the voter ID laws to voter suppression tactics in the past, such as poll taxes. He added that these laws will be a “significant factor in the presidential election” and thus affect New Jersey.
“We want all who are entitled to vote to do so,” said McKeon, “and anything that oppresses votes in Texas, or South Carolina, or Kansas, or a number of the other states that ... have these laws in place will have a profound effect on us as it relates to how a president is elected."
Jeff Brown, policy and communication coordinator for Citizen Action, said widespread voter fraud is a nonissue. The only thing these laws will accomplish, he added, will be to disenfranchise elderly, minority and poor voters.
“This is a concerted effort to attack a problem that isn’t there,” said Brown.