Assembly Passes “Early Voting” Bill

TRENTON – The Assembly passed a bill that would allow early voting in New Jersey in primary and general elections, giving it  final legislative approval, with a 46-31 vote on Thursday.

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), a sponsor of the proposed legislation. “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 bill establishes an early voting process to allow voters to cast their votes at specially designated polling places, starting on the fifth Monday before both the primary election and the general election, and ending on the second calendar day before the election.
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 using a paper ballot. Designated polling places must be open for early voting on Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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 bill provides that each county board of elections is to designate three early voting locations in each county, except that the county board must designate a total of five public locations for early voting if the number of registered voters in the county is at least 150,000 but less than 300,000, and must designate a total of seven public locations for early voting if the number of registered voters in the county is 300,000 or more.

Under the bill, the number of registered voters in each county must be determined ahead of the selection of early voting sites pursuant to a uniform standard to be developed by the Secretary of State. Whenever possible, early voting sites must be geographically located so as to ensure both access in the part of the county that features the greatest concentration of population, according to the most recent federal decennial census of the United States, and access in various geographic areas of the county. No public school building may serve as an early voting location.

Once early voting locations are designated in each county, county boards of election must, as provided by the Secretary of State, evaluate and, if deemed necessary, revise these locations in order to accommodate significant changes in the number of registered voters within each county, reflect the population distribution and density within each county, or enhance convenience when an early voting site has proven to be inconvenient for the voters, or because of similar circumstances. The Secretary of State must develop the criteria to be used by county boards of election to revise the location of early voting sites and must prescribe how often such revision must take place.

The bill will take effect on July 1, 2013, or immediately if enacted after that date.

The bill now goes to the governor.

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