TRENTON – A revised plan to introduce early face-to-face voting on machines in New Jersey, starting with the gubernatorial election this fall, was approved by a Senate committee Thursday.
The length of the early voting period would vary depending on the election, with those who generally have the highest turnout having the most days. It would start 10 days before a general election, six days before a presidential primary, and four days before a non-presidential primary.
“Many states already have an early personal vote, including the weekend vote. It has been a long time since New Jersey joined our sister jurisdiction and made voting easier for voters, ”said Henal Patel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
The government committee of the Senate unanimously presented the bill, which is to be voted on alongside the budget committee.
Stakeholders spoke out in favor of the bill, but made it clear that it was a compromise that could be strengthened in the future. Jesse Burns of New Jersey’s League of Women Voters called it “a really strong starting point for implementing long-demanded electoral reform.”
“It aims to balance a viable implementation, take some costs into account, and continue to focus on making voting more accessible and inclusive,” said Burns.
Burns said a 15-day early voting period was preferable and the length of early voting availability was the same for each election.
“Every election matters, and our goal for the future should really be to increase voter turnout in primary and local elections in years outside of the president,” said Burns.
The plan would require the state to help counties buy equipment such as electronic ballot books. Steve Peter, Somerset County administrative clerk, said there could be other significant costs as well, such as replacing older voting machines, as all machines must be compatible with the vote counting software.
“We are keen to invest in an early vote, but we want to make sure lawmakers and the state alike know what that investment will mean,” said Peter.
Hunterdon County Administrative Clerk Mary Melfi, like Peter, expressed concern that the change could overwhelm the nationwide voter registration system if the system’s flaws are not corrected first.
“I’m very proud of New Jersey for our 2020 election. We did a phenomenal job. We were a beacon in national politics, so I don’t want us to lose that beacon, ”said Melfi.
Mary Ciccone, New Jersey director of disability rights, said the change could help bridge the voter turnout gap between people with disabilities and those without them, which stood at 13.4% in the 2018 election.
“There are many reasons for this lower turnout. In particular, we see a lot of transport and access to polling stations, ”said Ciccone. “Any changes that can improve access and address these issues are likely to lead to greater participation by people with disabilities.”
Michael Symons is the head of the State House office for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.