Home>Campaigns>New VBM law forces some unaffiliated voters to pick their party by April 12 — and maybe forces judges to move faster

The chambers of the New Jersey State Assembly. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

New VBM law forces some unaffiliated voters to pick their party by April 12 — and maybe forces judges to move faster

Unaffilaited voters who automatically receive mail-in ballots will no longer receive one from each party

By David Wildstein, March 28 2023 8:09 pm

Judges may need to settle ballot challenges at warp speed if they read a new law that forces some unaffiliated voters to declare a political party by April 12 if they want to vote by mail in the June 6 primary election.

A new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy last year no longer requires county clerks to mail both Democratic and Republican mail-in ballots to unaffiliated voters on a permanent VBM list.  Instead, those voters must either pick a party or vote in person.

“How can voters decide what primary they want to vote in, which is their right up until Election Day, if they don’t know who the candidates are?” asked a party leader who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

That might create an unintended consequence for judges who rely on legislative intent.

The statutory deadline to file a challenge to petitions is April 8.  Unless judges can move at an unusually rapid pace, voters could be denied the opportunity to pick a political party without knowing who will be on the ballot.

But one legislative insider suggested that the legislators weren’t entirely clear about their intent.

“That’s honestly just slipped by,” the person said.  “People missed it.”

Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D-Edison) introduced legislation to fix the problem last week.

Karabinchak’s proposal allows unaffiliated VBM voters to use mail-in ballots if they submit a party declaration form to the county or their municipal clerk by 3 PM on the day before the primary election.

The issue may not be a problem for voters in 2023 – elections where the legislature tops the ticket have historically low turnout – but it could be next year when New Jerseyans vote in the presidential primary.

Sometimes that happens due to up-to-the-minute changes to the national political environment.

In 2016, the number of unaffiliated voters in the state dropped by roughly 150,000 immediately following the primary election.

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