Are mail-in ballots opening the door to fraud in New Jersey?
An update made just last year to the mail-in-ballot process in New Jersey is already causing controversy, so Republican lawmakers are looking to get rid of the new rule to prevent fraud in the future.
In response to reports this month of a Cedar Grove councilman knocking on residents' doors — and seen on surveillance video doing so — to possibly drum up additional last-minute votes in a municipal race, state legislators for the district say no absentee ballots should be counted after polls close on Election Day.
Their legislation, to be formally introduced "shortly," would repeal a law signed in 2018 by Gov. Phil Murphy stating that vote-by-mail ballots are eligible if postmarked on Election Day and received within 48 hours of polls closing.
"Anyone who has the audacity to bang on doors at 10:30 p.m. to round up extra votes has no business serving in government. That's an egregious violation of public trust," state Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, said in a news release. "Until we take corrective action to limit the overreach of these new mail-in-ballot laws, people like Harry Kumburis will continue to exploit the system — and they won't always be caught on tape."
Kumburis, who was more than 30 votes behind at the the time he went door to door, has told reporters that he was only asking residents if they had yet mailed in their ballots. Kumburis denied any wrongdoing; his late-night visit prompted one resident to call police.
The Essex County Board of Elections, according to NorthJersey.com, has announced the county prosecutor's office is investigating a handful of Cedar Grove mail-in ballots dropped off at a post office in Newark after polls closed. In the article, Kumburis said he's not involved in that incident and hasn't been contacted in relation to the matter.
More than 550,000 mail-in ballots were sent to New Jersey residents this year. Some were requested for 2018 races, but others were the product of a law that required they be sent to individuals who requested one in 2016.
"This major expansion in the use of mail-in ballots has launched us into a brave new world of New Jersey politics, and both regulations and legislation are trying to catch up with those who are seen as being a bit too creative with the use of mail-in ballots," said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship at Rowan University.
Getting voters to the polls "is expensive business" for candidates, Dworkin noted. So the mail-in option takes care of some of the legwork. But there's a "delicate balancing game," he said, between giving citizens their right to vote and ensuring a fair election.
Under current law, candidates cannot be vote-by-mail bearers. The proposed law also upgrades the penalties for any candidate who poses as a bearer.
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