Murphy signs controversial fix to vote by mail legislation

A day after it passed the state Assembly and two days after it passed through the Senate, Gov. Murphy signed into law a bill clarifying a previous piece of legislation that dealt with enrollment in the state’s vote by mail program.

The original bill, signed into law last year, allows people who apply for mail-in ballots to receive them permanently. But there was confusion into how the law should be implemented. The bill grandfathered in anyone who voted by mail in the 2016 election, but the state Division of Elections recently ruled that the bill did not apply to those who voted in 2017 and 2018. Those voters would have had to reapply for a mail-in ballot for this year’s election.

But Democrats in the Legislature did not agree with that interpretation of the bill and convened a special legislative session this week to rectify the situation. The bill that was passed and signed would ensure that voters who requested mail-in ballots for any election in 2017 and 2018 will receive a mail-in ballot in all future elections, unless the voter informs his or her county clerk otherwise.

Republicans questioned the motivation to fast-track this bill during the Legislature’s summer recess, noting the reported advantage it would give Democrats in the upcoming Assembly elections.

“These new vote-by-mail laws are an attempt to rig the 2019 elections,” GOP Chair Doug Steinhardt said in a statement. “Everyone must be clear what they’re doing here. It’s selective inclusion, and it’s wrong, if not illegal.”

But Democrats maintain that the law is intended to make it easier for more people to vote.

“I continue to believe that our democracy is stronger when we make it easier for New Jersey citizens to participate,” Murphy said in a statement accompanying the announcement of the bill signing, “… that is why I will continue to advocate for reforms that would expand access to the ballot box, such as expanded early in-person voting, same-day voter registration, online voter registration, allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 years old by the general election, and allowing individuals on probation and parole to vote.”

The bill also appropriated $2 million to help counties accommodate the increased amount of mail-in ballots.

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