NJ advances early voting plan as alternative for mail-phobic voters
TRENTON — Lawmakers advanced seven bills Thursday that would change how New Jersey elections are administered, including one that would make in-person early voting available 15 days before general elections.
It’s not clear if the early-voting change could possibly be in place before this November’s election, as that bill was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, which meets Monday but didn’t have that on its agenda as of Thursday night.
The early voting bill, which would require early voting stations to be established in 115 locations, wouldn’t include voting machines. State Sen. James Beach, D-Camden, said “it’s nothing more than a live drop-off box” for mail-in votes.
“Some people question if their vote really counts if they vote by mail. This way they’re handing it to a live person,” Beach said.
Gov. Phil Murphy, through an executive order, is requiring at least 10 ballot drop boxes to be set up in each county.
Winn Khuong, executive director of Action Together New Jersey, said it would be good to allow people to turn in vote-by-mail ballots at early polling places.
“I look at it from a volume and flow perspective. We are going to be expected to have 4 million plus voters this fall. How do we do that? Do we have just one day to do all of that?” Khuong said.
“The early voting locations allows people – because there are people who are not confident in vote-by-mail, and I totally acknowledge that – it allows them to go and vote early in person should they want to, and vote safely,” she said.
State Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, said the bill appears to require a person to fill out two ballots, increasing the risk that votes will be double-counted or voided. Democrats said the language he was referencing was removed from the bill.
“In my 22 years, this is the most ridiculous bill I have ever seen,” Thompson said.
“There are going to be drop boxes all over the place where they can put their ballot. They can take the very unusual thing of just putting it in the mail,” Thompson said. “If you think that’s going to make it easier for your folks, it’s going to complicate it even more.”
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, 1 in 6 votes in New Jersey were done by mail, a rate that has steadily increased. Pending the result of a federal lawsuit brought by the Trump campaign, around 6 million voters in New Jersey will be sent a mail-in ballot for this year’s election.
“We want everybody’s vote to count,” said state Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer. “But what I’ve found in my county, you can’t rely on the mail. … We’ve been told that very clearly.”
Beach also sponsors a bill that would allow counties to begin opening vote-by-mail ballots five days before Election Day, to get them ready to be counted promptly when the polls open. They couldn’t be counted early, according to the bill.
“God knows when we’re going to be able to certify this election coming up,” Beach said. “But without doing things like this, you’re probably looking at not having fairly accurate numbers until Thanksgiving.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.