Vote-by-mail fee unconstitutional

Vote-by-mail allows registered N.J. voters to vote in advance by a mail-in ballot, but charges 44 cents for postage. (AP Photo)
Vote-by-mail allows registered N.J. voters to vote in advance by a mail-in ballot, but charges 44 cents for postage. (AP Photo)

by Brian Block

Earlier this year, New Jersey passed the vote-by-mail law, which instituted a process in which registered voters could vote in advance through use of a mail-in ballot. We, as students, must applaud the state legislature for making the process of voting more inclusive, and more accessible to every citizen.

However, in its noble pursuit of alleviating the burden of leaving school and driving home to vote on Election Day, the state mistakenly included within the law a provision which I believe to be unconstitutional.

A single line in this law reads, “At the discretion of the county clerk, the outer envelope may be a postage paid return envelope.” Essentially, when a voter is mailed a ballot, he or she is responsible for purchasing 44 cents postage in order to send his or her vote back to be counted.

In my opinion, this stipulation in the vote-by-mail law violates the 24th Amendment to the Constitution which says, “ The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.” The postage fee amounts to nothing short of a poll tax, which if not “paid,” results in a person being unable to cast his or her vote through the mail.

There is one argument against this reasoning — a person is allowed to physically hand their ballot to the county clerk in which he or she lives. I strongly believe this argument is without merit.

The purpose of vote-by-mail is to make it easier for registered voters in any situation, whether a college student is attending a distant school, an average working man or woman who cannot make it to the polls on Election Day, or the people who need every cent that they have, to be able to cast a vote.

Since many of us are New Jersey citizens who live hours away from the College, we would like to utilize the vote-by-mail system so that we do not have to drive home to vote (again satisfying the purpose of law). To do so, we must pay a poll tax of 44 cents.

While there are no federal elections this year, which would have to occur in order for the 24th Amendment to be applicable, there will be as soon as next November.

Yet, I believe that we can all agree that in any state or national election, nobody’s right to vote should be denied or hindered by an expense, however small.

The rights and interests of every College voter registered in New Jersey are at stake. How many car-less freshman will be, or even should be, making a trip to the Robbin’s Pharmacy satellite post office to purchase a stamp in order to be able to vote?

Therefore, I call on the legislature to amend the vote-by-mail law to require that county clerks pre-pay the postage required on ballot return envelopes. This will, at minimal expense, create a more equitable system of voting that will not needlessly disenfranchise citizens.