A New Jersey lawmaker is backing away from a proposal that would have allowed the state’s 21 counties to count vote-by-mail ballots one week before Election Day. The provision is buried in a bill sponsored by state Sen. James Beach (D-Cherry Hill). The stated purpose of the bill is to give county clerks more time to prepare for the 2020 primary. But the provision allowing each county’s Board of Elections to open and count mail-in ballots a week early has drawn the ire of some progressive activists. “We’re calling it legalized cheating,” said Yael Niv, president of the Good Government Coalition of New Jersey.
County elections staff are often closely tied to party machines in the state. Under the proposed legislation, early results are supposed to be confidential. But Niv said she’s worried that candidates backed by the machine could gain an edge and better direct their resources if county employees share the early vote totals.
Beach, who’s also the chairman of the Camden County Democratic Committee, said he initially thought giving election workers an extra week to count mail-in ballots made sense. “After I looked into it, I’m not so sure it really is a good idea because of safety and security of the numbers,” he said. The bill was voted out of committee unanimously. Now, Beach says if it comes to a floor vote, he will offer an amendment that removes the provision that allows the early tabulation of mail-in ballots.
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