Assembly Democratic Early Voting Bill Continues Advancing

March 07, 2013

Wisniewski, Oliver, Diegnan, Benson, Conaway & Coughlin Bill Released by Assembly Panel

Would Have N.J. Join 32 Other States that Allow Early Voting


(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Deputy Speaker John Wisniewski, Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, Patrick J. Diegnan Jr., Daniel R. Benson, Herb Conaway M.D. and Craig J. Coughlin introduced to allow early voting in New Jersey in primary and general elections was advanced Monday by an Assembly panel.

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 Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “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 Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “We should give residents every chance to exercise it."

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.

"We already allow absentee and mail-in voting as alternatives to voting on Election Day, so 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 makes sense,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). "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."

“This isn’t a radical idea,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “In fact, New Jersey trails most of the nation when it comes to offering voters this convenience. We need to do better and make voting as easy as possible for our residents.”

“It’s time for New Jersey to modernize its elections,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “If this works well in 32 other states, then it should work just fine in New Jersey. Easing access to the democratic process is always a good thing.”

“This is a well-thought out regulated plan that will make it easier for New Jerseyans to vote while protecting the integrity of the democratic process,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “Early voting is quite simply the right thing to do for our state. Even before Sandy proved we need a viable alternative, we needed to catch up with the rest of the nation.”

As amended by the committee, this bill establishes an early voting procedure to allow voters to cast their votes at specially designated polling places, starting on the 15th day before 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, as amended, 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.

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

The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.