As a veteran of our armed forces, I'm used to people asking me about our nation's security. Recently, though, I've been getting a new kind of question about our elections. Friends and neighbors are worried about security vulnerabilities in our voting process, about inaccuracies in our voting records, and about whether we can protect voters' privacy.
The decision to serve in the U.S. military isn't always an easy one. It can be physically and emotionally challenging and requires constant relocation, often with little advance notice. But it's the life we signed up for, and it's not part of military culture to complain publicly. But there's at least one way our elected leaders can better serve our military: Make it less confusing to vote.
When you're about to move from one duty station to another, the last thing on your mind is updating your voter registration. Then a few months pass and there's an election that will miss your input because the system failed to update your records.
Now that I'm back home, I'm glad so many New Jerseyans are talking about our elections.
Lawmakers in Trenton are working on legislation to create a system that automatically registers eligible voters and keeps our voting records up-to-date.
The measure, called automatic voter registration (AVR), would register New Jerseyans who are eligible to vote, and update addresses of those already registered when we visit a Motor Vehicles office. When voters change addresses and don't update their registration, errors are created in the system. A well-defined process for automatic records updates keeps information private and helps prevent hacking or tampering.
Other states that have implemented AVR, such as Oregon, have seen cleaner voter rolls and a system that keeps registration records accurate and secure by removing those errors.
AVR also helps ensure that only eligible citizens can register to vote, further strengthening the integrity of our democratic process.
On top of that, registering voters electronically is cheaper than using paper forms. More accurate, updated voter lists will cut administrative costs for local election officials. That's why AVR is a bipartisan cause, passing with strong support on both sides of the aisle in states as diverse as Illinois, Vermont, and West Virginia.
Most important, AVR ensures that Americans who accept assignments to move on short notice won't face barriers to doing their civic duty – people like my brothers and sisters still serving our country in the Marines. From my multiple U.S.-based assignments and two deployments to Afghanistan, I know what it was like to finish an assignment, pack up the next day, and drive across country without knowing exactly where you would be living when you got there. The last thing on any service member's mind was updating his or her voter registration.
While former Gov. Chris Christie vetoed AVR despite bipartisan support, AVR has a powerful new advocate in our current Gov. Murphy, who spoke often on the campaign trail about modernizing elections. And in the legislature, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, and Senators Joe Vitale and Jim Beach are leading the charge.
As a veteran, I'm particularly excited Gov. Murphy announced the appointment of Sue Fulton as chair and chief administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, a veteran of the Army and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She is someone who understands the importance of this issue.
I was fortunate to have served our country alongside dedicated people in the Marines. Many signed up for service knowing full well that we were already fighting two wars.
People from all walks of life and all backgrounds sign up to go thousands of miles from home to serve their country. With the Marines, and in all of our branches of service, you can't find a more dedicated group of people. Those servicemen and women – and any American who finds themselves pulling up stakes and moving when an opportunity presents itself – deserve a system that moves with them and encourages them to participate in civic life.
That's why I support AVR and encourage all elected leaders in the New Jersey legislature to do the same.
Call your representative in the Assembly and Senate and ask them to vote yes on AVR when it comes up for a vote this year.