After sitting on his hands for months, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie finally made a decision on Monday about “The Democracy Act,” a bill passed by the Legislature this summer that seeks to improve voter turnout in the Garden State with online registration, an expansion of early voting, and the automatic registration of driver’s license applicants (unless they opt out).
Despite the Garden State’s lackluster numbers when it comes to the percentage of eligible voters registered and average voter turnout — 39th for both — Christie vetoed the bill, which he described as a “backward” and “thinly-veiled” attempt at “political gamesmanship.” The governor also claimed that the law would cost the state $25 million per year, before vowing to “ensure that every eligible citizen’s vote counts and is not stolen by fraud.”
By any policy metric, Christie’s decision was strange. For one thing, in New Jersey, like everywhere else, voter fraud is not so much a menace as it is a myth. Election law experts have been saying this for years; but perhaps the clearest sign comes from the far-right Heritage Foundation. In a country with a registered voting population of more than 146 million, Heritage found fewer than 300 examples of fraud. And even that paltry number required Heritage’s reaching back all the way to 1996.
Of course, the reason Christie’s veto makes no sense as policy is very simple. It’s not policy; it’s politics. Chris Christie is seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. And as his debut tonight as part of the “kids’ table” debate attests, the campaign isn’t going particularly well. He’s rarely cracking 2 percent in national polls. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, where his campaign has gone all in, he’s sitting not-so-pretty in eighth place. The time when he was his party’s (supposed) frontrunner has become a fading memory.
If Christie were a different kind of politician, you could imagine him surveying the 2016 field and accepting what looks like an almost certain defeat. You could imagine him following Gov. Scott Walker’s lead by shuttering his campaign and preserving at least a facsimile of dignity. Maybe focusing on being a good governor for New Jersey instead. Or at least getting his approval rating above 40 percent before leaving office. He’s a wealthy and powerful man; to paraphrase Jeb Bush, Christie could be doing any number of “really cool things.”
But Chris Christie is not a different kind of politician. He’s Chris Christie. And as has been painfully clear ever since the world first heard of traffic problems in Fort Lee, aside from an indictment, there seems to be nothing that could happen to persuade Christie to give up on his White House dreams. Like a wild animal who mutilates its own body to escape a hunter’s trap, Christie will campaign for president until he can't campaign for president no more — i.e., until voters in New Hampshire put his operation out of its misery.
And if that’s the way Christie wants to go out, I’m almost tempted to say he can have it. But the problem is that Christie’s flailing campaign is increasingly piling up collateral damage — be it against the Black Lives Matter movement, legislation for gun safety, or New Jerseyans’ ability to exercise their right to vote. If all of his pandering to the most Archie Bunker-esque members of New Hampshire’s electorate didn’t have material consequences, it would be embarrassing, not dishonorable.
But the governor’s demagoguery does have real-world consequences. And even if "The Democracy Act" becomes law through a ballot initiative, which its supporters are now considering, he's still delayed a common sense reform due to the most selfish of reasons. He should be ashamed.