person holding white envelope

With In-Person Voting Returning June 8, Legislators Look to Protect Process

With Gov. Phil Murphy announcing the June primaries would primarily be held in-person, New Jersey legislators began crafting new legislation to shore up the state’s voting processes.

Murphy said at a press briefing March 22 that regularly operated polling places would be open for all voters who wished to cast their ballots at voting machines for the June primaries.

“We could take this step because our numbers…are holding steady and we are expecting to be in a much better place two-and-a-half months from now,” he said, referencing coronavirus case data.

Meanwhile, legislators looked to ensure fair deployment of ballot drop boxes, and to prevent voter suppression in the coming elections.

Spreading Out Ballot Boxes

Assemblyman William Moen (D-5) sponsored a bill which would allow county boards of elections to relocate certain ballot drop boxes in order to ensure more equal distribution.

The legislation, which was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee, would help residents who had no ballot boxes nearby.

“It is not fair for some New Jersey residents to have to trek miles to drop their ballot off while other residents have multiple boxes to choose from within just blocks of each other,” said Moen 

The move was seen as a way to clean up 2020’s rollout of the ballot drop off boxes, which the state used to ensure a vote during the pandemic.

Voter Intimidation, Suppression

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35) in sponsoring a bill with Assemblywomen Linda Carter (D-22) and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-15) put forth legislation that would protect voters from intimidation through the use of “poll watchers” and law enforcement officers being stationed at voting sites.

Specifically, the bill would prohibit:

  • a district board of elections, and any of its members from requesting law enforcement officers to be detailed to polling places;
  • a law enforcement agency from assigning law enforcement officers to any district board to enforce the election laws, maintain order, “peace and quiet” during the hours of registry and election, and
  • a law enforcement officer from serving as a member of the district board of elections unless they are off duty.

“A voter’s right to cast their ballot is a constitutional right that should remain unencumbered, and unthreatened,” said Wimberly. “Voter intimidation and suppression comes in many forms and can happen anywhere. We’ve seen this done before right here in New Jersey. This legislation makes it clear that there’s no place for these tactics in any election.

The bill was passed by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee as well.

Federal Moves

The bills in Trenton follows sweeping election reform bill passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives the For the People Act, also known as House Resolution 1 (H.R. 1), proposes the largest overhaul of U.S. election law since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Supported by North Jersey House Representatives, Rep. Bill Pascrell said “After nearly 200 years of inequity, for the first time the United States could finally attain its full promise. But, American democracy is under attack. Across the nation, over 250 bills have been offered to suppress voting and rig elections.”

Among the actions in the federal bill awaiting action in the Senate are expand automatic voter registration and same-day registration, strengthen vote by mail, early voting and ballot access and measures to combat voter intimidation and voter suppression.

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