- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey residents could register to vote online or be automatically enrolled when they apply for a driver’s license under an election law overhaul that is intended to boost dwindling turnout.

Democratic legislators who unveiled the measure on Monday, including Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, said it would revise an outdated system. The proposal, which lawmakers cast as a common-sense change made possible by technological advances, comes weeks after Gov. Chris Christie lambasted Hillary Rodham Clinton for suggesting that Republicans want to restrict voter access.

An Associated Press analysis of June’s primary showed just 5.1 percent of eligible voters participated, the lowest level since 1925.

“Why is anybody against making it easier for people to register to vote and for people to vote?” asked Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.

Jon Bramnick, the Assembly’s Republican leader, said he wants to review the legislation in detail before announcing a position, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. questioned whether the proposal would really increase turnout.

The package of bills, modeled on Oregon’s laws, includes authorization for online registration, early voting and preregistration for 17-year-olds. Residents getting a driver’s license or state ID would have to opt out of registering to vote, rather having to take an additional step to register at the same time.

Another provision would change the rules for filling unexpected legislative vacancies, which supporters say would have prevented that state from spending $24 million on a special election Christie held in October 2013 after the death of Democratic U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

The bill would require the governor to fill vacancies that occur more than 70 days before a general election with an interim lawmaker from the incumbent’s party. Christie chose former attorney general and Republican Jeff Chiesa to succeed Lautenberg in 2013.

The election overhaul proposal comes amid a national debate over voter access. Christie, who is considering his own run for president, pointedly said this month on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that he disagreed with Clinton’s assertion that he and other Republicans were making it harder for people to vote.

“She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” he said.

Democrats deny the governor’s potential presidential ambitions are a factor.

“We spend zero time worrying about boxing the governor in on his presidential politics,” said Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald. “Literally zero time.”

Christie spokesman Brian Murray declined to comment.

Sweeney said he is open to pursuing a constitutional amendment if Christie vetoes the legislation.

Democrats have support from outside groups, including New Jersey Working Families Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union, Latino Action Network and League of Women Voters.

Messages to legislative Republicans were not immediately returned.

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