Trenton – Acting to rectify the documented failure by the U.S. Postal Service to deliver mail-in ballots on time in the past May’s municipal elections, the Senate Budget Committee today approved a bill authored by Senator Paul Sarlo to allow mail-in ballots to be accepted by municipal clerks’ offices.
The bill, S-2496, would allow voters to hand deliver their ballots to their local clerk’s office, which would then be required to hand deliver the ballots to the county election board. Voters wanting to hand deliver their ballots in order to ensure they are received and properly counted would no longer have to travel to their county seat or rely on the United States Postal Service, preventing a repeat of the problems that plagued this past May’s municipal elections.
When accepting ballots, the clerk’s office would have to follow the same procedures as the county boards of elections, which includes requiring the person hand delivering a ballot to show identification and sign a certification, amongst other procedures meant to safeguard the voting process.
“Relying on the Postal Service had disastrous results, with ballots that were lost or delayed, meaning the votes were not counted,” said Senator Sarlo. “And requiring individuals to travel all the way to their county seat to hand deliver their ballot to ensure it is received and properly counted is an unfair burden and an inefficient process.”
The legislation would take effect August 10, 2020 and would not apply to the upcoming primary election, which was moved from June 2nd to July 9th as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.
The bill would also extend the deadline by which mail-in ballots bearing a post mark of the day of the election must be received by the county board of elections in order to be counted. Currently, the board must receive the ballot within 48 hours of the polls closing, but under the bill, that would be extended to 144 hours (six days) which falls on a Monday in the case of elections held on a Tuesday.
“Voting by mail has increasingly shown itself to be an important tool in the election process,” said Senator Sarlo. “It provides for increased turnout, reduced cost, and even increased safety, particularly as the need to avoid large crowds due to COVID-19 remains.”
The bill would require the Attorney General to represent a municipal clerk in any civil action and pay all costs resulting from a court decision or settlement. It would also require that voters who have their application to vote by mail denied be notified in writing within twenty-four hours.