For second time, Senate ops to expand early voting in NJ

TRENTON – The New Jersey Senate passed for a second time in two years a bill that would expand early voting in the state today, 21-15.

S536, sponsored by state Senators Nia Gill (D-34) and Jim Whelan (D-2), would require New Jersey’s 21 counties to set up several early voting locations starting 15 days before the election and to keep them open on weekends.

And while voters can already cast mail-in ballots and counties are able to open early voting locations at their own behest up to 45 days prior to an election, as state Sen. Steve Oroho (R-24) pointed out in a comment, S536 would obligate counties to offer early voting locations and keep them open on weekends.

Gill called the current system “ad hoc”, and said early voting in its current form is offered only under a directive by the Attorney General, whereas this bill would make it law.

“Early voting would ensure that in an emergency, such as national disasters like Hurricane Sandy, or in the case of unforeseen personal scheduling conflicts, residents would be able to get to the polls and exercise the right to vote,” Gill said on the Senate floor.

Passed in May 2013 but subsequently vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie, the legislation was revisited, Gill said, after a recent Rutgers University report that showed emergency measures intended to allow people to vote in the days immediately after Hurricane Sandy violated state law.

The report found that the emergency measures — which were sanctioned by Christie and allowed voters to request mail-in ballots by fax and email — led to widespread confusion that overwhelmed county clerks on election day.

“The Rutgers report has reinforced some of my grave concerns about the integrity of New Jersey’s voting system under this administration. It is without question that the emergency measure put in place post-Sandy compromised the process and undermined the election system,” Gill added.

In his veto of the original bill — which is near-identical to the one passed today, Whelan noted — Christie said he was concerned with costs and argued it “risks the integrity and orderly administration of our elections by introducing a new voting method and process.”

“We’re just trying to bring New Jersey into the 21st century,” Whelan said in an earlier phone interview with PolitickerNJ.

For second time, Senate ops to expand early voting in NJ