(TRENTON) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact New Jersey, the July primary election will be conducted predominantly by mail with each registered Democrat and Republican automatically receiving a ballot and all other registered voters receiving an application for a mail-in ballot. If the pandemic continues through the fall, more voters may choose to vote by mail than in past elections.
To increase public awareness of vote-by-mail and implement safeguards to improve the system’s efficiency, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Raj Mukherji was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.
“It’s critical that we balance the interest of voting by mail with a system that is both fair and efficient,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “Under this legislation, the particular goal is to ensure every person registered and able to vote has the information they need. It works to ensure the voice of our electorate continues to be heard, whether people choose to vote by mail or to head to the polls. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, getting VBM right and getting mailed-in ballots properly counted is vital.”
The measure (A-3591) would require the New Jersey Secretary of State to raise public awareness for vote by mail by preparing informational posters for use at all polling places; include information with mail-in ballots for how the voter can check the status of their ballot; and provide educational materials to county board of elections employees on the standards for acceptance and rejection of mail-in ballots.
Under current law, county boards of elections are required to retain voted mail-in ballots for two years. This bill would clarify that ballots received 48 hours after the polls close, along with their envelopes, should also be retained for two years. It would also prohibit the rejection of mail-in ballots that have missing or insufficient glue on the outer or inner envelopes.
“Voting is among our most important rights and responsibilities in this country, and it should be easily accessible to all,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for us to raise awareness for vote-by-mail and make improvements to ensure every vote is fairly counted.”
“Voter apathy and low turnout are grave threats to our democracy, and even more so during a pandemic. Expansion of vote-by-mail and ensuring its fairness and efficiency can help combat those threats,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “By allowing our citizens who may not be able to make it to the ballot box in person, from people with disabilities to workers without paid time off to the elderly or immunocompromised, we must allow their voices to be heard. It is imperative that we increase awareness and ensure fair counting in preparation for a surge in mailed ballots.”
Additionally under the bill, every mail-in ballot that does not have a postmark date but is received by a county board by the United States Postal Service within 48 hours after the polls close should be considered valid and must be canvassed.
The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.