Both houses of the New Jersey legislature have voted to pass a bill that would stop elections from being held on religious holidays.
The legislation allows the secretary of state to change the date of regular municipal elections and also allows the commissioner of education to do the same for school-related elections if there is a conflict with a religious holiday.
The legislation stems from a controversy last year in Edison, where Jewish and Christian religious leaders protested after the Edison Public School District scheduled a vote on a bond issue referendum for the first day of Rosh Hashana, making it difficult for those celebrating the holiday to get to the polls.
After some debate, state officials allowed the election to be postponed.
This legislation aims to prevent similar problems in the future, said Assemblyman Gary Schaer, co-sponsor of the bill and the only Orthodox Jewish member of the legislature.
“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,” Schaer said.
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan also co-sponsored the bill to prevent voters from choosing “between their religious and civic duties.”
“We simply cannot allow an entire segment of our society to be shut out from casting their votes,” he said. “Even with our constitutional separation of church and state, no resident has ever been asked to shove their religious views in a drawer.”
At the time Church & State went to press, the bill was awaiting signature from Gov. Jon Corzine.