Eagleton experts discuss new state law allowing 17-year-old voters to participate in primary elections

January 29, 2024

On January 4, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) signed the New Voter Empowerment Act into law, permitting 17-year-olds to vote in state primary elections, provided that they will turn 18 before the November general elections, according to a press release.

Nineteen states have already adopted similar laws, and this new bill will take effect on Jan. 1, 2026.

Julia Sass Rubin, the director of the public policy program and the associate dean of academic programs at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said this law faced considerable pushback until Murphy postponed its effect to 2026.

She said that some politicians were concerned about the bill’s partisan influence as typically, youth voters are considered to hold Left-leaning views. Rubin said the bill would likely affect primary elections more since general elections in New Jersey are not usually competitive.

“New Jersey is a state whose politics are controlled by political machines, and they like to know who’s going to vote,” she said. “And the primary is the most important election in New Jersey because we don’t have very competitive general elections for the most part.”

Like Ronan-Frisch, Rubin said participating in the electoral process at age 17 statistically increases the likelihood of instilling a voting tradition within the individual, especially as they may still reside with their parents.

When these voters enroll in higher education, they could face difficulties with voting, such as submitting an absentee ballot or commuting to the town in which they are registered to vote, Rubin said.

“To strengthen our democracy, we must ensure that all eligible voters can participate in it,” Murphy said in the press release.

The Daily Targum, January 29, 2024

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