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 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.
“There is no question that we must modernize our voting process to ensure access to the polls. The problems we saw in the aftermath of Sandy have created major concerns about the vulnerability of our system and highlighted the vital need to improve the process to ensure the integrity of the vote,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “A recent Rutgers report substantiated the serious problems that we knew existed with our system, and will recur during the next emergency if we do not implement a safe, secure and effective process for voting. We must join other states in establishing early voting, which will ensure that every registered voter has an opportunity to cast a ballot.”
“Sandy taught us a valuable lesson about the chaos that can occur on Election Day when a natural disaster or any kind of emergency strikes,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “We have a responsibility to improve our voting laws to ensure access to the polls for our residents. This is not an issue that can be ignored or put off for another day. Failing to act on this important measure will in effect result in disenfranchising voters who have a right to participate in the Election process. It is time to implement early voting just as other states already have.”
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.
A report issued last week by the Constitutional Rights Clinic at Rutgers School of Law in Newark found that post-Sandy emergency voting measures, which included voting by email and fax, were illegal, insecure and confusing. In addition, it overwhelmed employees and the system set up to process the applications. In Essex County alone, 1,500 applications for ballots remained unprocessed after Election Day, the report found. In Hudson County, eight staff members worked to process 3,000 ballot applications (not even actual ballots) on Election Day itself. The Senators said the problems exposed by the report demonstrate the critical need for early voting. This bill is the second legislative effort in recent years to establish an early voting process. A similar bill passed both houses of the Legislature last session but was vetoed by the governor. This bill, however, does not include early voting for primary elections. Early voting has also been backed by President Obama and The Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a panel he commissioned, has recommended the expansion of early voting to improve access to the polls.
“This is a common sense measure that will substantially improve our laws, ensuring a safe and reliable process for voting. At the same time, the revisions we made, to include general elections but not primaries in early voting, will curb the expected cost of the program,” said Senator Gill. “Given the insecurity of our current system, we cannot delay the implementation of early voting any longer. New Jersey must move its voting system into the 21st Century, and this bill is the most efficient and effective way to do that. It will expand opportunities for people to participate in the process and exercise their most fundamental constitutional right.”
“With today’s fast-paced society, it can be nearly impossible for residents 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 8-5. It next heads to the Senate for a vote.