Would Allow In-Person Voting At Designated Polling Locations Up To 15 Days Prior To Election
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Nia H. Gill and Jim Whelan to establish early voting in New Jersey was approved today by the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee. The Legislation would permit voters to cast ballots in person at designated polling locations as early as 15 days prior to an election.
“There has been widespread recognition that we must modernize our voting process in this country to ensure access to the polls. Since there are few rights more important than a citizen’s ability to vote, creating a secure and reliable system that ensures access must be a priority,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “Our current system limits the window for voters to cast their ballots at traditional polling places to a single day. Early voting would expand opportunities for people to participate in the process and exercise their most fundamental constitutional right.”
“Sandy taught us a valuable lesson about the chaos that can ensue on Election Day when a natural disaster strikes,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “There is a vital need to improve our voting laws to ensure access to the polls. This is not an issue that can be ignored or put off for another day. We have a responsibility to the people of this state to make sure they can participate in the Election process, and early voting is the best way to do that.”
The bill (S-536) 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.
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.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama expressed the need for voting reform, referencing the long lines that plagued the process on Election Day during the General Election in 2012. The president highlighted the work of a panel he commissioned, which recommended the expansion of early voting to improve access to the polls. The Presidential Commission on Election Administration was headed by Democrat Robert Bauer and Republican Benjamin Ginsberg, who served as counsel for the campaigns of President Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively. 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.
The legislators’ bill is similar to legislation that was passed by both houses last session and vetoed by the governor; however, this bill does not include primary elections.
“Two-thirds of the states in the country have recognized the benefit of updating their voting laws. It’s well past time that New Jersey moved its system into the 21st Century as well,” said Senator Gill. “This bill will substantially improve our laws. At the same time, the revisions we made, to include general elections but not primaries, will curb the expected cost of the program. We cannot delay this important issue any longer. It is imperative that we ensure a safe and reliable process for elections, and this bill is the most efficient and effective way to safeguard our system.”
“With many of our residents juggling work, school and family obligations, it can be nearly impossible for them to make it to the polls on Election Day. Especially when it comes to a right as important as voting, we should be doing everything we can to make sure that all voters are able to participate in the process,” said Senator Whelan. “That means updating our antiquated system and expanding in-person voting beyond the traditional one-day time frame. Early voting will allow access to the polls beginning 15 days before the election and provide residents an opportunity to vote when it is most convenient for them.”
The Committee approved the bill by a vote of 3-2. It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.