Trenton lawmakers from both houses and parties are moving forward with legislation intended to ensure the delays in counting mail in ballots are a thing of the past.
Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-40) introduced a bill on Dec. 6 that permits county election officials to count mail-in ballots as they are received instead of waiting until Election Day. State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-7) is offering similar legislation in the upper chamber.
DePhillips’ bill (A6143) requires county boards of elections that start canvassing vote-by-mail ballots before Election Day to ensure the security of the process and confidentiality of the ballots until polls close.
“When vote tallies are changing drastically, or flipping in favor of one candidate over another, because of a delay in counting mail-in ballots, voters lose trust in the security and integrity of our elections,” said DePhillips. “This year’s gubernatorial and legislative elections really underscored the importance of correcting the process.”
Fighting Conspiracy Theories
At issue is the current law that permitted early in-person voting for the first time barred county clerks from adding up early in-person and mail-in ballots until Election Day. As a result, the gubernatorial race and several legislative contests were too close to call for days as officials tallied mail-in ballots.
DePhillips noted in Bergen County alone, 41,000 mail-in votes were not included in the Election Night tally. This caused some voters to allege fraud as results flipped once the Democratic-favored vote-by-mail ballots were taken into account.
“It is incumbent upon officials to fix the problems that lead to conspiracy theories,” said the Bergen County legislator. “Earlier counting of mail-in votes will help address some of this year’s hang-ups.”
In the State Senate version that Singleton is offering, county boards of elections would be allowed to begin canvassing early votes and mail-in ballots before Election Day under certain circumstances.
“Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy. Through our efforts to make voting more accessible via vote by mail and early voting, we have encouraged even more New Jerseyans to participate in the electoral process,” said the State Senator. “However, this year’s election results were significantly delayed due to the counting of these ballots.”
The bill, S-4257, would allow county election officials to begin canvassing each early vote no earlier than 24 hours after the conclusion of the early voting period and opening the inner envelopes and canvassing each mail-in ballot from the inner envelopes no earlier than ten days prior to the day of the election. The bill would prohibit the disclosure of those votes prior to the close of polls on the day of election.
Under current law, early votes cast during the early voting period may not be canvassed or counted until the polls close on election day. Similarly, mail in ballots may begin to be canvassed or counted on Election Day.
“By allowing county board of elections to begin processing early votes and VBMs before Election Day, we hope to restore timeliness and confidence in the process, while maintaining and upholding election integrity,” stated Singleton