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Gill/Whelan Legislation To Establish Statewide Early Voting Heads To Governor

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 received final approval today in the state Assembly. The Legislation, which would permit voters to cast ballots in person at designated polling locations as early as 15 days prior to an election, now heads to the desk of Governor Chris Christie.

“There are few rights more important than a citizen’s 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 would 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.”

“Hurricane Sandy exposed a real need to update our voting laws. In many towns and cities, polling places were relocated and residents were left to navigate a confusing system that allowed voting by email and fax,” said Whelan (D-Atlantic). “It is critical that we create a more predictable process for the electorate. Early voting will do that by allowing in-person voting at the polls up to two weeks before Election Day, including on weekends.”

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.

“If we can travel around the world to ensure that other countries have a safe, secure and reliable voting process, we should be willing to invest in the infrastructure here at home to safeguard our election system,” said Senator Gill. “To date, two-thirds of the states in the country have recognized both the need and the benefit of updating their voting laws. It’s well past time that New Jersey moved to modernize its laws and to bring our system into the 21st Century as well.”

“Between work, school and other obligations, it can be nearly impossible for voters to make it to the polls on Election Day. Especially 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 outdated system and expanding voting at the polls beyond the traditional one-day time frame,” said Senator Whelan. “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. In a modern-day society, this just makes sense.”

The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 24-16. The Assembly approved the bill by a vote of 46-31.

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