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Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge), left, with Gov. Phil Murphy.

Murphy signs Coughlin’s voting reform package

By Joey Fox and David Wildstein, July 29 2022 5:34 pm

As expected, Gov. Phil Murphy signed seven new voting reform bills into law on Thursday.

The legislation, spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, shortens various deadlines: postmarked absentee ballots would only be accepted up to four days after the election instead of six; voters would have the ability to cure defective ballots up to nine days after the election instead of 13; and absentee ballots would be sent out for non-federal elections 38 days before the election instead of 45.

“Across the nation, we continue to see one of our nation’s core principles come under attack as states restrict access to the ballot,” Murphy said.  “I am proud to sign legislation that will make democracy more accessible, more transparent, and stronger in our state.  New Jersey will continue to move forward as we ensure that the democratic process is secure and protected.”

Coughlin said updates to the state’s voting systems must “reflect the kind of world we live in today and ensuring the results reported on election night are easily understood and transparent, we safeguard the health of our democracy.”

“The only way to strengthen our democracy is to make sure we can all participate in it, and that the people have trust in the results and the process,” the speaker said.

While Coughlin’s proposals passed both houses of the legislature, a major overhaul of New Jersey’s campaign finance laws, dubbed the “Elections Transparency Act,” was pulled from the Senate voting schedule in June following blowback from progressive groups and unions; the bill had never been posted for a vote in the Assembly at all.

Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Minority Leader Steve Oroho were the key driving forces behind the transparency bill.  They are working on some changes to what Scutari called “complicated legislation”

What does each bill do?

The core of the Coughlin package is five bills, each of which contains a number of different provisions and all of which will come up for a vote tomorrow.

A3817 requires early and mail-in votes to be reported by district rather than just municipality; reduces the ballot cure deadline from 13 days to nine; allows voters to request absentee ballots and make changes to their voter registration online; and requires privacy sleeves be provided for paper ballots.

A3819 removes voters from automatic absentee lists if they don’t vote absentee in four consecutive general elections; stops sending absentee ballots to secondary addresses if the ballots are undeliverable in two consecutive general elections; and appropriates $5 million for voter education on the changes.

A3820 prevents unaffiliated voters from receiving absentee ballots for primary elections (currently, they receive ballots for both party’s primaries); requires election officials to assist those voters in registering with a party; and requires that absentee ballots be designed such that partisan affiliation is not visible from the outside of the envelope.

A3822 moves the deadline for mailing absentee ballots in non-federal elections to 38 days before the election instead of 45; requires county boards of elections to post online the number of ballots received and the number left to be counted; requires that updated counts be sent at the end of each day to the Secretary of State, who would post online a statewide aggregation of ballots counted and left to be counted; and moves the acceptance deadline for postmarked absentee ballots to four days after the election instead of six; and allows county boards of elections to begin opening (but seemingly not counting) absentee ballots up to five days before the election.

A3823 requires municipalities to notify the voter registration commissioner of death records every two weeks in the two months leading up to a statewide election; allows remote election worker instruction in certain cases; and exempts election worker pay from income taxes. Another provision to eliminate a cap on salaries for boards of election staff appears to have been removed in committee.

Two other bills are numbered as part of Coughlin’s package but aren’t listed on tomorrow’s voting schedule.

A3818 designates four dates throughout the year when fire district special elections can be held, with certain exceptions.

A3821 requires at least 50% of each county’s early voting and ballot drop box locations be in municipalities that had low turnout in the previous election and at least 50% be in locations accessible by public transportation.

And finally, three election-related bills that were not part of Coughlin’s package are also coming up for a vote tomorrow.

A1969 allows 16- and 17-year-olds to serve as poll workers from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Election Day, thus eliminating the eight-hour cap for minors in those specific circumstances.

A3915 requires the state to pay for the costs of a special election if a state error necessitated the election to begin with, as happened in Old Bridge earlier this year.

A3929 allows more overseas voters to vote in state-level elections, specifically overseas voters who say they do not intend to return to the country or who say their return is uncertain.

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