TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee Chairman Jim Whelan that would make it easier and more secure for New Jersey residents who are living abroad to vote was approved today by the Committee.
“This legislation incorporates into the law practical and common-sense measures that ensure the enfranchisement of the men and women who bravely protect our country overseas, their families and other Americans living abroad,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “Those New Jersey residents living around the globe should have the same assurances as those living within our borders that not only can they cast their vote in our elections, but that it will be counted. Our election system must protect all our registered voters and these reforms are a step towards guaranteeing that.”
The bill, S-2219, would revise the state’s Overseas Residents Absentee Voting Law to more closely resemble the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act (MOVE Act). The changes would simplify the absentee voting process for United States military families and overseas civilians.
The bill would expand the definition of overseas voters to include legally recognized partners of military service personnel, including spouses, civil union and domestic partners, voters born outside of the US whose parents’ last US residency was New Jersey, and overseas voters with residences in New Jersey.
The bill would change the current overseas absentee voter law to allow voters to receive an electronic absentee ballot if they submit an absentee ballot application by 3 PM on the day prior to the election. Current law requires that eligible ballot applications to be received at least four days before the election. Additionally, the bill would permit the use of the federal postcard application, a nationally standardized form for overseas voters to vote, apply for an overseas ballot and to register to vote.
“New Jersey is already ahead of the game by allowing overseas voters to cast their ballots electronically, but we can do more to ensure that they have the greatest access possible to actively participate in our democratic process,” said Senator Whelan. “Our service members are living in remote parts of the world and may have limited or inconsistent access to mail and computers. By lengthening the time they can apply for an absentee ballot, we may be able to remove voting obstacles for New Jersey residents living abroad.”
The bill would allow overseas voters to use a valid US Passport, a Passport Card, a Certificate of Citizenship or any other valid form of identification recognized under federal or state law when applying for an absentee ballot.
The bill would also ensure that minor errors – such as omission or mistake that is not substantive in nature – on an election document would not invalidate the document.
According to a 2008 survey by the Overseas Voting Foundation, more than one in five overseas voters surveyed did not receive the ballot they requested. Senator Whelan noted that by eliminating rules that require entire applications to be thrown out based on minor, inconsequential errors, more residents living overseas will receive their ballots and will be able to vote.
In 2009, Congress passed the MOVE Act to provide enhanced protections for service members, their families and other overseas US citizens. The MOVE Act requires that states transmit ballots to overseas voters no less than 45 days prior to an election, when the absentee ballot request has been received by that date; allow overseas voters to receive their voting documents electronically; and do not reject ballots based on nonessential requirements such as a missing notary or inconsequential spelling mistake.
Senator Whelan notes that while New Jersey law already encompasses most of the changes in the MOVE Act, this bill incorporates the few concepts not already addressed.
The bill was approved by the Committee with a vote of 4-1. It now heads to the full Senate for approval.