Editor’s Note: This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. The article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.
With a watchful eye on how Tuesday’s election plays out, voting-rights advocates in New Jersey are already thinking about how to push reforms aimed at increasing voter participation for next year’s election.
At or near the top of all their lists is early voting.
“I think this election will be a test of the efficacy of alternative-voting protocols designed to make it easier and more convenient for New Jersey voters to participate in our democracy. Many in New Jersey have longed to see expanded early voting, same-day registration and a more user friendly bureaucracy in an age of better and more reliable technology,” said Angelo Genova, a prominent Democratic election law attorney. “Assuming all fares well in today’s election, I think pending legislations providing for same day registration and early voting will gain new traction.”
Several bills were proposed this year to address those issues, but did not make it to a floor vote.
One, A-4548/S-2824, would reduce the standard voter registration deadline to eight days before an election. It would also allow voter registration at polling places on Election Day and at offices where mail-in ballots are issued within 45 days of the election. This would make same-day registration legal in New Jersey, which over 20 states already have.
Two other bills also propose early-voting options: A-632/S99 and A-4830 would require the state to allow for a two-week in person early-voting period for certain elections.
Another bill that languished, S-2820, would allow citizens to register to vote online.
Henal Patel, director of the Democracy and Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, agrees with Genova regarding same-day registration and increased early voting rules.
On par with other states
“Voters in New Jersey should, at the very least, have the same voting access that voters in so many other states have,” she said. But she also believes it is equally important to address voter intimidation. Patel said her organization strongly supports a bill (A-4655/S-2923) that would limit law enforcement presence at polling places and ballot drop boxes. It would also prohibit electioneering within 100 feet of a ballot drop box.
That legislation was scheduled for a full floor vote last week but was pulled the day before because Gov. Phil Murphy “had concerns about passing it so close to the election,” Patel said. “A legislative spokesperson said there were polling places in police stations in some places.”
That bill should be revisited, she said, “considering the longstanding issues of policing in Black and brown communities, coupled with the increased concerns about voter intimidation we’ve seen by law enforcement in other states.”
Genova, however, said he is not so sure.
“Law enforcement presence at polling locations … is a double-edged sword and is informed more by what law enforcement’s role is, not their mere presence,” he said.” When people have confidence that a police presence is measured, physically distant and intended to ensure all who wish to vote get the opportunity to do so, they are less likely to see it as intimidation. It’s if and when that role is abused that it becomes problematic.”
Calling for ‘post-mortem’
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), who sponsored one of the early-voting bills, thinks a full “post-mortem” will be required after this election, the first large-scale election in the state’s history to be conducted nearly entirely by mail.
“First, we are going to have to catch our breath, and then go about looking at what worked and what didn’t” — like how well we handled mail-in ballots, he said. “Then we will have to see how we can further expand making voting easier in New Jersey.”