Vote-by-mail changes to expand in 2021 with more drop boxes
Democratic lawmakers approved legislation Thursday that turns Gov. Phil Murphy’s order for a mostly-by-mail election into law – in the process, potentially undercutting a lawsuit from President Donald Trump’s campaign that said the governor overstepped his legal authority.
Three bills addressing vote-by-mail were passed, including one sponsored by Assemblyman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Mercer, requiring ballot drop boxes.
“This is an unusual period that we are in, and it is very important for us to make sure that not only do we have these drop boxes but we provide as much access and locations for people to come and vote,” said Reynolds-Jackson.
Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, objects to a part of the bill requiring ballot drop boxes in any town with at least 5,000 residents – which she said leaves out 185, many rural, sprawling and more heavily Republican.
“The message they will hear is that efforts to ensure that everyone is being given a chance to vote aren’t important in small towns like theirs,” Corrado said. “They will suspect the worst.”
That part of the law wouldn’t take effect until next year. At least 10 per county would be required this fall. Sen. Troy Singleton said the boxes alleviate concerns about voting by mail.
“There is a lot of political back and forth about what’s going on right or wrong in the U.S. postal system. This takes that conversation away from it,” Singleton said.
Starting next year, boxes would be placed at any county government building in which the main office of the county clerk is located; any municipal government building in which the main office of the municipal clerk is located in municipalities with populations larger than 5,000 residents; the main campus of each county community college; the main campus of each state college or university; and the main campus of each independent four-year college or university with enrollments larger than 5,000 students.
Republicans say a mail-in election disenfranchises voters, but Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Mercer, who sponsors a bill that would institute rules for enabling voters to fix mistakes such as a signature mismatch that cause their votes to be flagged for rejections, insists that’s not the case.
“What we’re doing here today is ensuring that the people of New Jersey in the middle of a pandemic can exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Zwicker said.
A skeptical Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, said the state lets people in supermarkets, liquor stores, the Motor Vehicle Commission and starting next week, gyms.
“But what it has deemed not safe is exercising your constitutional right to vote in person by stepping into a voting machine for less than one minute while pushing a couple of buttons,” Schepisi said.
Democrats say the mail-first approach ensures people feel safe to vote if there’s a second wave of coronavirus in early November. It also limits the number of poll workers, many of them elderly, who will check in voters at the polls all day long.
Voters don’t have to vote by mail this fall. At least one polling place will be open in every municipality on Election Day, but they’d be voting on provisional paper ballots, not regular voting machines.
Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, voted for the bills but said Murphy has mishandled the election changes.
“We believe that we should be able to go to the polls and vote on machines,” Rice said. “If you get to live in urban cities and watch liquor stores from day one of COVID-19 form lines at 12 o’clock around the corner buying alcohol, we certainly can social distance at the polling place.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.