In a landmark move on Thursday, January 4th, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the “New Voter Empowerment Act,” a significant piece of legislation that allows 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they are projected to turn 18 by the subsequent general election. This groundbreaking law, set to take effect in 2026, marks a pivotal shift in the state’s approach to voter engagement and democratic participation.
The enactment of this law places New Jersey, alongside nineteen other states and Washington, D.C., in empowering young voters. This decision reflects a growing recognition of the importance of involving youth in the democratic process, especially at a time when political polarization and voter apathy are prevalent concerns.
At the signing, Governor Murphy said, “Across government, we see how the decisions we make today impact future generations. I am proud to sign legislation that expands access to the ballot box while engaging and empowering a new generation of voters.”
Governor Murphy’s action builds upon New Jersey’s recent efforts to expand voting rights, including measures like automatic voter registration and the restoration of voting rights for individuals on probation or parole. The “New Voter Empowerment Act” is seen as a continuation of these efforts aimed at strengthening democracy by ensuring that all eligible voters can participate in it.
Supporters of the law, including New Jersey Senator Andrew Zwicker, who first introduced the bill in 2016, emphasize the need to engage and empower a new generation of voters. He argued that allowing young people who are on the cusp of adulthood to participate in primaries is a crucial step in keeping them involved in the democratic process. This law is expected to help young voters develop a habit of voting and contribute to shaping the political landscape of New Jersey.
Zwicker said, “‘One person, one vote’ is at the heart of our democracy and I am happy to see it signed into law.”
He continued, “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.”
The new law’s implementation in 2026 means it will not affect this year’s presidential race or next year’s gubernatorial election but will be a significant factor in future elections.
This legislative change in New Jersey is a testament to the state’s commitment to cultivating an informed and active citizenry. By allowing 17-year-olds to participate in primary elections, New Jersey is not only expanding its democratic base but also empowering its young population to have a say in who their elected officials will be.
As New Jersey prepares for the implementation of this law, the focus now turns to educating and preparing these young voters for their new role in the democratic process. The “New Voter Empowerment Act” is a step towards a more inclusive and representative government, ensuring that the voices of young individuals help shape the future of the Garden State.