A bill to ensure that New Jersey voters are not disenfranchised when an election falls on the same day as a major religious observance was passed by the state Senate on Monday and sent to Gov. Jon Corzine for his signature.
|Assemblyman Gary Schaer|
Sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblymen Gary S. Schaer and Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. and passed there 79-0 on Sept. 25, the measure stems from a situation that arose in Edison when a school bond referendum was scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 30 – the same day as Rosh HaShanah. Under state law, school bond referendums may be held only on specific days, with no flexibility for rescheduling if that day coincides with a religious observance.
“Knowingly scheduling an election on a day of solemn religious observance is an insult to New Jerseyans everywhere who value the diversity of our state,” said Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen/Essex), the legislature’s only Orthodox member. “Religious freedom has always been one of America’s core values. We must recognize and respect that time-honored tradition.”
“We simply cannot allow an entire segment of our society to be shut out from casting their votes,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Providing leeway to reschedule an election to ensure all voters can make it to the polls is common sense. No voter should ever have to choose between their religious and civic duties.”
The Schaer/Diegnan bill (A-3186) would permit the secretary of state to change the date of a regular municipal election if the date coincides with a religious observance. It also would empower the commissioner of education to change the date of any school-related election that conflicts with a religious holiday.
“Even with our constitutional separation of church and state, no resident has ever been asked to shove their religious views in a drawer,” said Diegnan.
“Making this change in election law will not only strengthen our democratic process, but strengthen our commitment to religious tolerance, as well,” said Schaer.
The bill also is sponsored by Assemblyman Peter J. Barnes III (D-Edison).
After conferring with Jewish community leaders and state and local officials, the Edison school board rescheduled the bond vote to December.
The Senate passed the measure 39-0. The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 79-0 on Sept. 25.