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Gill-Whelan Legislation To Establish Statewide Early Voting Clears Budget Panel

Would Allow In-Person Voting At Designated Polling Locations Up To 15 Days Prior To Election

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Nia H. Gill and Jim Whelan to establish early voting in New Jersey was approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The Legislation would permit voters to cast ballots in person at designated polling locations as early as 15 days prior to an election.

“The cornerstone of our democracy is the ability to vote, so making the process accessible, effective and efficient must be our priority,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “This measure will improve the current process that limits the window for voters to cast their ballots at traditional polling places to a single day and it would expand opportunities for people to participate in the process and exercise their most fundamental constitutional right.”

The bill (S-2364) would establish an early voting procedure to allow voters to cast their ballots at designated polling places starting 15 days before the primary election and the General Election, and ending on the Sunday before the election. A municipality holding elections on the second Tuesday in May, by an ordinance adopted by its governing body could also conduct early voting for municipal elections. Each county board of elections would be responsible for creating and carrying out a written plan to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, the integrity of the voting process including the security of the ballots.

“Some form of early voting is already taking place in dozens of states where it has been successful. It encourages participation by allowing more flexibility for voters but also provides a more secure and reliable process, reducing the likelihood of long lines and other problems that may arise when polling places become overwhelmed,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “Implementing a uniform procedure for early in-person voting will also ensure that if an event such as a storm or a natural disaster is forecast, residents will be able to vote beforehand under a process they are familiar with rather than face confusion like many did after Hurricane Sandy when polling places were moved, and voting was being done by email and fax.”

Early voting would enable a registered voter to vote at a designated polling place by paper ballot. Polling places would be open to voters seven days a week, with uniform voting hours statewide – 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Each county would be required to have at least three early voting locations, however, counties with at least 150,000 but less than 300,000 would be required to have five public locations for early voting; those with 300,000 or more registered voters would be required to have seven polling locations for early voting. The bill also would require that early voting sites be geographically located to ensure access by voters.

“So many residents live extremely busy lifestyles, managing work, family and other responsibilities, which can make it extremely difficult for people to find time to get to the polls on Election Day,” said Senator Whelan. “Early voting will increase opportunities for our residents to take part in the process by expanding the time period for voters to cast their ballots at traditional polling places.”

In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama expressed the need for voting reform, referencing the long lines that plagued the process on Election Day during the general election in 2012. Currently, two-thirds of the states–32, plus the District of Columbia–offer some sort of early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Just as other states have reformed their systems to ensure that every person has an opportunity to have their voice heard on Election Day, we also must take steps to expand voter access and to safeguard our election system statewide,” said Senator Gill. “If we can go all around the world to promote democracy, the right to vote, and the integrity of the vote, we must be willing to invest in the infrastructure here at home that will make the voting process effective, efficient and secure.”

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved the bill by a vote of 8-5. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.