TRENTON – Seeking to give residents more voting alternatives following the Election Day woes created by Superstorm Sandy, Assembly Deputy Speaker John S. Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) will introduce a bill creating an early voting option for primary and general elections in New Jersey.
“People are busy. Many have long work days or other responsibilities that prevent them from hitting the polls on Election Day. Then there are the natural disasters that we simply can’t plan for. Sandy threw a wrench into the machinery of Election Day and created tremendous confusion in some counties,” said Wisniewski. “This is a matter of convenience and ensuring that every resident who is registered and wants to vote will have the opportunity to do so. The right to vote and participate in the democratic process is one of our most sacred rights. We should give residents every chance to exercise it.”
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia currently have an early voting program allowing duly-registered voters to vote in person at specially-designated polling locations prior to Election Day.
The bill proposed by Wisniewski creates an early voting process to allow registered voters in New Jersey to cast their votes at specially designated polling places, starting on the fourth Monday before a primary or general election and ending on the Sunday before the election. A municipality holding municipal elections on the second Tuesday in May may also conduct early voting for those municipal elections via an ordinance adopted by its governing body. A voter who participates in early voting would not be allowed to vote by mail-in ballot or in person on Election Day.
Under the bill, each county board would designate each county clerk’s office in each county and each municipal clerk’s office in each municipality as the sites for early voting to take place. The sites would be open for eight hours each day, seven days a week, and early voting would be conducted using the same machines, ballots and procedures used on the day of any election.
A duly-registered voter would be permitted to vote after signing an early voting voter certificate, and after the voter’s eligibility to vote is ascertained in the same manner as is done on Election Day. At least once each day during the early voting period, and prior to the start of the regularly scheduled election, each county board must make such changes as may be necessary to the voter’s record in the statewide voter registration system and the signature copy register used at each polling place to indicate that a voter has voted in that election using the early voting procedure.
The bill also provides that, in addition to any publications required under Title 19 of the Revised Statutes, the Secretary of State and county boards of elections must publish information concerning the early voting procedure on the Department of State website and the respective county’s website. The early voting information must include, but may not be limited to, a notice to the public concerning their eligibility to participate in early voting, the duration of the early voting period and the locations and hours of operation of specially designated polling places for early voting in each county.
Funds to pay for early voting would be provided to each county governing body and each non-partisan municipal governing body that approves early voting in such amounts as the State Treasurer and the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting in the Department of the Treasury deem necessary to cover any additional costs incurred as a result of this bill.
“We already allow absentee and mail-in voting as alternatives to voting on Election Day. Adding a third option gives residents who may not be able to vote on Election Day the opportunity to have their voices heard and votes counted,” said Wisniewski. “More than half the country currently allows its residents to vote early. It’s time for New Jersey to give its residents the same benefit.”