TRENTON – An Assembly panel today advanced a Democrat-sponsored bill that would allow early voting in primary and general elections. The bill (A-3553) aims to give residents more voting alternatives following the Election Day woes created by Hurricane Sandy.
“People are busy, and many have long work days or responsibilities that prevent them from hitting the polls on Election Day,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), one of the bill’s sponsors. “Then there are natural disasters that we simply can’t plan for. Sandy threw a wrench into the machinery of Election Day and created tremendous confusion. This is a matter of convenience and ensuring 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,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “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 establishes an early voting process to allow voters to cast their votes at specially designated polling places, starting on the fifth Monday before the primary election and the general election, and ending on the second calendar day before the elections.
A municipality holding municipal elections on the second Tuesday in May, by an ordinance adopted by its governing body may also conduct early voting for those municipal elections.
Under the bill, early voting will enable a registered voter to vote at a designated polling place before the day of certain elections.
The bill provides that each county board is to 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 occur. The sites would be open 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 will be permitted to vote after signing an early voting voter certificate, and after the voter’s eligibility to vote is ascertained in substantially the same manner as 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.
A voter who participates in early voting would not be permitted to vote by mail-in ballot or in person on election day.
The election officers responsible for conducting early voting would be the same as those responsible for conducting a general election.
The number of such officers and their hours of service would be as determined by each county board of elections. The compensation for such officers would be as provided for by current law for poll workers serving at a school election.
The bill provides that each county board will be responsible for forming and executing a written plan for the security of the voting machines and ballots used during the early voting period, including voted ballots and election materials, based on guidelines established by the Secretary of State and submitted thereto no later than December 15 of each year. For the elections that early voting is available, the procedures concerning the conduct of voters at the polling place and the appointment of challengers, as well as the prohibition on electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place, will be as provided for in current law.
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 on the Department of State’s website and the respective county’s website information concerning the early voting procedure.
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.
The bill was released by the Assembly State Government Committee. It will need further consideration by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.