Anatomy of a BillNew Jersey

New Jersey’s New Voter Empowerment Act

March 4, 2024

By Pamela Goldsmith

On January 4, 2024, the “New Voter Empowerment Act,” was signed into law by New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy, providing the opportunity for some 17-year-olds to cast a ballot in the state’s June primaries beginning in 2026.

First introduced by the New Jersey General Assembly in March 2022, A3690 allows voters who are 17 years old to vote in a primary if they turn 18 on or by the next general election. New Jersey now joins nineteen other states and Washington, D.C. that allow this voting provision. Supporters of the law say making youth voter engagement a priority has helped generate record youth voter turnout in recent years. 

One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Assemblyman William Moen Jr., says expanding access to the ballot box while engaging and empowering a new generation of voters is vital to strengthening democracy.

As the youngest legislator in the state’s capital during the 2020 session, later serving as Deputy Majority Leader in 2022, Moen understood the importance of fostering bipartisan support for his vision, asserting that “impactful legislation often arises from open dialogues across the aisle.” He says his commitment to engaging constituents at a younger age resonated with lawmakers from both parties, when he emphasized the mutual benefits for Democrats and Republicans alike.

Moen remarked that when the bill was up for consideration, both in committee and during the voting session, he was lucky enough to be able to have conversations with some of his fellow Assembly members from both sides of the aisle. 

“Through making my case both in the press and by having personal conversations with colleagues to illustrate the importance of getting young people to participate in elections, the result was support received from both political parties on the day the bill was passed in the Assembly,” said Moen. “Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (NJ – R) reached out herself requesting to co-sponsor the bill; I think that alone says a lot about the legislation.”

Following evidence of bipartisan support and advocacy from proponents of voting rights organizations like the League of Women Voters, the Senate’s state government committee unanimously agreed to move the bill forward then advanced it out of the Statehouse along party lines in December before Murphy signed it into law.

Co-sponsor Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) said, “At a time when our politics is polarized and when too many people stay home on Election Day, it is time to engage and empower a new generation of voters so that they may have a say in the future of our great state.”

Moen says that though there was some dissent as to whether 17-year-olds are mature enough to make informed decisions at the ballot box, New Jersey prides itself on access to civics curriculum in its schools. By expanding access to the electoral process, he sees the “New Voter Empowerment Act” as a practical application of the knowledge gained in school while simultaneously allowing our youth population to become engaged participants in our democracy. 

“As times change, New Jerseyans face new issues, and many have come to recognize that the input of the younger generation is crucial in addressing these ever-evolving challenges,” said Moen.

Assemblywoman Dunn, an ardent co-sponsor of the bill, also recognized the significance of engaging young voters at the primary level for lifelong commitment. She is one of 28 Republicans in New Jersey’s General Assembly out of its 80 members. Despite some dissent within her party, Dunn advocated for the bill by emphasizing the responsibility of elected officials to empower the next generation, and stressed the importance of educating young voters for an informed decision-making process.

Dunn says research proves that if you are engaged in voting and politics at the primary level, you become a more committed voter lifelong. She explained that the largest voting block that’s growing in her state is unaffiliated or independent, saying “disassociation from party is affecting the choices voters have in the budget by the time they reach the general.” She would like to see more engagement at the primary level. 

Dunn also says low voter turnout for primary races is a recurring problem. Speaking within her caucus, she said some eluded to the idea that including these younger voters in the primary election provides more support for one party than the other. She disagrees and says the engagement of youth in the political process is of benefit to both sides.

“It’s important to hear what they’re concerned about because as an elected official, the decisions you’re making today are all about how it impacts the next generation,” said Dunn. “It’s why they should have a seat at the table, empowering them so they feel invested and that they are part of the process, which makes them more apt to show up and vote in the primary.”

Dunn explains that though she was initially met with some criticism within in her party for being in favor of the bill, after having one on one conversations with her caucus, two of her colleagues decided to vote in favor. Her discussions emphasized research and data showing that “if you engage a young person [in the political process] at this point, they will remain a committed voter.” She says her point then became evidence-based. 

Though her party is the minority, Dunn claims that may change as more young people decide to affiliate with the minority party, vote in primaries and have more of an influence on the right. 

“Today’s youth is very issue-oriented; they find all the polarization we have now and the partisanship to be very noisy,” said Dunn. 

Many are choosing to be an unaffiliated — or worse — she says she hears many young people say they’re not going to show up to vote.

She maintains that it takes that one person to step up and speak out on an issue they’re supportive of — then being sure to place the focus on a discussion point — “then it’s no longer ‘us’ or ‘them.’”

“When I stepped out to support this issue, I focused on the fact that every vote matters and we want young people to know their vote matters; and just as important — that electoral reform and good governance is really the path to unity.” 

Rep. Sara Jacobs


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