We the People: Why New Jersey Needs to Expand Democracy

As New Jersey's population grows more diverse, a stronger democracy is needed so elected leaders truly represent their constituents.

Published on Oct 28, 2021 in Democracy and Media

“We the people” is a phrase synonymous with U.S. democracy. After all, these are the first words in the Constitution. However, as history shows — and despite its etching into our nation’s founding documents — not all “men” are created equal in public institutions, policies, and practices. If that were the case, there would be no need to undo voter disenfranchisement, partisan election ballots, institutional racism, sexism, discrimination, and more that have plagued democracy since its founding.

Nevertheless, New Jersey has done a lot to expand democracy over the past few years: from restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated residents, to establishing automatic voter registration, to enabling residents to register online, vote early, and remotely through vote-by-mail. Yet, white, senior voters are still most likely to vote and shape policy and state and local decision-making. In New Jersey, Black, Asian, and Hispanic/Latinx residents are the least likely to participate in elections, with voting rates of approximately 50 to 60 percent, compared to 79 percent for white voters.[i] Additionally, partisan primary election ballots that privilege the preferences of county political parties further dilute the chances for authentic representation of the public.[ii]

To have a true democracy in the Garden State, lawmakers must extend voting rights to even more residents, abolish “the line” on primary ballots, and create a fairer, more inclusive redistricting process. This will require a collection of policies that make voting easier, bring more New Jerseyans into democratic processes, and encourage more competitive elections. With Senate Republicans blocking federal voting rights legislation in Congress, the need for state reforms are all the more urgent.

To learn more about these important issues before Election Day, please consider reading:


End Notes

[i] U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, November 2020.Table 4b. Reported Voting and Registration, by Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin, for States: November 2020

[ii] Julia Sass Rubin. 2020. Toeing the Line: New Jersey Primary Ballots Enable Party Insiders to Pick Winners. New Jersey Policy Perspective.