With the November election looming in the distance, legislation designed to improve vote-by-mail procedures was advanced by the Senate State Government, Wager, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee.
State Sen. Nia H. Gill (D-34) said that voting was a fundamental right in a democracy, and noted problems with votes in May and June highlighted vulnerabilities in the system. State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-7) echoed the call, saying the “sanctity of elections is paramount to continuation of our democracy.”
State Sen. James Beach (D-6) said with Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that every voter would receive a mail-in ballot in November, the state needed to become more proactive in addressing the situation.
The Legislative Package
The legislative package was made up of seven bills, including:
- S.99 – The bill, sponsored by Gill, would institute in-person early voting for November general elections.
- S.2580 – The bill, sponsored Singleton, would require county boards of election to establish ballot drop boxes in each county at least 45 days before the election.
- S.2598/2699 – The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) and Gill, would prohibit county board of elections from rejecting any mail-in or provisional ballot with a missing signature or a signature mismatch unless the voter is provided the opportunity to address the signature discrepancy.
- S.2633 – The bill, sponsored by Gopal and State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36), would require a public awareness campaign to promote voting by mail and increase awareness for how mail-in ballots work. In addition, the bill would extend the deadline for submitting mail-in ballots.
- S.2776 – The bill, sponsored by State Sens. Singleton and Pou, would require county board of elections to mail notices to all mail-in votes after each election confirming their ballot was received and counted.
- S.2819 – The bill, sponsored by State Sens. Beach and Shirley Turner (D-15), permits counties to begin processing vote-by-mail ballots up to five days prior to election day.
- S.2820 – The bill, sponsored by State Sens. Beach and Turner, allows registered voters to submit an application to vote by mail using the online voter registration website maintained by the Secretary of State up to seven days before election day.
Preparing for November
Allowing clerks to process early ballots would be an easy fix to help swamped offices later in the year, according to Sen. Beach.
Additionally, Gopal argued the pandemic could not be allowed to determine the election, as the state had already lost so much during the year. He called for safety in November by providing for ballots now.
“This is the most important election of my lifetime and I am glad the Senate, with this legislation, is addressing the many challenges our current public health crisis presents and ensuring it does not hinder our ability to hold a fair election,” said Gopal.