New Law Keeps Elections From Conflicting With Religious Holidays

TRENTON –Last week, Gov. Jon Corzine signed a new law to ensure New Jersey voters are not disenfranchised when an election falls on the same day as a major religious observance. The measure stems from a situation that arose in Edison last year when a school bond referendum was scheduled for Sept. 30 – the same day as Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.

Under previous state law, school bond referendums may be held only on specific days, and there was no ability for rescheduling if that day coincided 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 Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen/Essex), the legislature’s only orthodox Jewish member. “Religious freedom has always been one of America’s core values. Today, New Jersey renews its commitment that time-honored tradition.”

 “We simply cannot allow an entire segment of our society to be shut-out from participating in the democratic process,” said Assemblyman Patrick 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 law permits the Secretary of State to change the date of a regular municipal election if the date coincides with a religious observance. It also empowers the Commissioner of Education to change the date of any school-related election that conflicts with a religious holiday.

“This simple law strengthens our promises of both an open, democratic process and religious tolerance,” said Assemblyman Peter Barnes III (D-Middlesex).

After conferring with Jewish community leaders and state and local officials, the Edison school board rescheduled the bond vote to December, when the proposal was defeated.

The law takes effect immediately.

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