More NJ election changes advance, prompting a call for a pause
TRENTON – Results for the last election haven’t yet been certified, but lawmakers are already working on changes for the next one.
Senate and Assembly committees advanced bills Monday that would raise pay for poll workers to $300 per election, give more people who make an error while trying to vote by mail a chance to fix it and let some people who moved overseas from New Jersey continue to vote in state elections.
It’s all a bit much, considering it follows the introduction of electronic poll books and early, in-person voting this fall, said Eileen Kean, a commissioner on the Monmouth County Board of Elections.
“I think it’s time for a pause on all these voting changes that we’ve made,” Kean said. “Monmouth County, we are not done counting, and for us it had to do with early vote-by-mail provisional ballots because it’s been a very laborious process.”
Dale Florio, a lobbyist representing both elections officials and county clerks, said counties are going to do a post-election analysis of how early voting worked and “will come back to members of the committees about some ideas as we continue to smooth this out.”
“It’s going to take a little while to get everything ironed out,” Florio said.
Sen. James Beach, D-Camden, said there were “an exorbitant amount of provisional ballots” in this year’s election, including more than 6,000 in Camden County.
“I think the whole state needs to get together with Bob Giles,” Beach said, referring to the director of state Division of Elections, “and work out some of the tweaks that we experienced with early voting and with the electronic poll books. … The state needs to come together and take a look at all these things.”
“I think there’s a lot of revisions that need to be made,” said Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex.
The bill raising poll worker pay to $300 per election comes with $7 million in spending, to help the state cover its $225 per worker share. The balance is paid by the counties.
“I know the Senate was a bit more generous at $400 in their bill, but $300 is better than $200,” Florio said.
Kean said the plan to allow people to ‘cure’ their ballots if the problem that would disqualify them is a missing certificate signed by the voter is “really a bad idea.”
“The certificate is the whole purpose of a mail-in ballot,” Kean said. “If the certificate is missing, we can’t even see who the voter is.”
Vote-by-mail ballot results are still being finalized from this year’s election. But of the first 290 ballots labeled as rejected, nearly a quarter of them were turned down because their certificate was missing.
In last year’s election, which was primarily conducted through the mail, nearly 47,000 mail-in ballots were rejected, including over 11,000 whose votes weren’t counted because of a missing certificate.
Overseas voters can still participate in federal elections but lost the ability to vote in state elections they once had, according to members of Democrats Abroad who testified before the committee.
“As a son of New Jersey, I’ve always deeply cared about our state. It is my home, but it's also the home where my immediate family lives,” said Rafael Nemet-Nejat. “I monitor the happenings in New Jersey from Singapore, but sadly due to the change in the law a few years ago, I’m no longer able to participate in state elections.”
“Limiting our participation in the election process is a dangerous endeavor, as it generates apathy towards voting and in turn democracy,” Nemet-Nejat said. “Voting is habitual. For many of us, it is something we look forward to every year. Disruptions to any routine can lead us to halt that activity or even stop it entirely.”
The bill was amended to limit permission to vote to New Jerseyans who have an intent to return to the state at some point. It also limits their vote to state races and ballot questions, not local ones. Tricia Augustine-Hamilton doesn’t like the changes and asked lawmakers to be careful not to restrict voters who plan to return but don’t fill out a postcard correctly.
“Life is full of uncertainty. You should not lose your voting rights because of it,” said Augustine-Hamilton, who lives in the Netherlands.
“There was a concern about voting in local elections. (Lawmakers) felt that you needed more certainty in order to vote in local elections,” she said. “I do not agree with this thinking, but I’m a grownup, and I know that politics is about compromise. So, it’s a stipulation I accept.”
Steve Nardi, who lives in Toronto, said it has been estimated there are 27,000 to 30,000 New Jerseyans living abroad who could qualify to vote.
“I could go on all day with reasons why overseas citizens have a right to vote,” Nardi said. “But the point here is clear: We all have a reason to vote.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.