Gill/Whelan Legislation To Establish Statewide Early Voting Clears Senate

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 Senate. The Legislation would permit voters to cast ballots in person at designated polling locations as early as 15 days prior to an election.

“There are few rights more important than a citizens ability to vote, and so creating a secure and reliable system that ensures that our residents have access to the polls must be a priority,” said Senator Gill (D-Essex/Passaic). “Early voting will improve our current election process that current process that limits voting at traditional polling places to Election Day, which for many people is a work day, and it will expand opportunities for people to participate in the democratic process.”

“Our state was not prepared for voting in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and because of that many voters were left to navigate a confusing new set of rules on Election Day,” said Senator Whelan. “In many jurisdictions, polling places were relocated and an unprecedented system to allow voting by email and fax was put in place. We have to create a more predictable process for the electorate. Early voting will do that by allowing voting for up to two weeks before Election Day, including on weekends. In a modern day society, providing a more convenient and predictable system for voters just makes sense.”

The bill (S-2364/A-3553) 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 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.

“Early voting already takes place in two-thirds of the states in the nation. It is time that New Jersey brings its voting laws into the 21st Century by implementing an early voting system here,” said Senator Gill. “This is not only intended to provide a more convenient process for voters, but to also ensure that in the event there is a natural disaster or a large-scale emergency, an alternate system will be in place that allows residents to get to the polls at an earlier time. The goal is to create a secure, reliable and inclusionary system.”

“New Jersey residents lead incredibly busy lives, and for those who are managing work, school and family responsibilities, getting to the polls on Election Day can be an impossible feat. When it comes to a right as important as voting, we have to make sure that all voters are able to participate in the process. That means updating our antiquated system and expanding voting at the polls beyond the traditional Tuesday,” said Senator Whelan. “Early voting will give residents an opportunity to vote at the polls on a day and at a time that is most convenient for them. This will help to increase participation and to protect against voter disenfranchisement.”

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 24-16. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.

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