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Photo courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives.

Will coronavirus effect pre-primary local elections?

Early voting begins for May municipal elections in two weeks

By David Wildstein, March 14 2020 8:37 pm

New Jersey could be facing a series of election questions over the next few weeks as the state wrestles with its response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Atlantic City has an important change of government referendum scheduled for March 31, some cities and towns – including Newark and Hackensack – have school board elections on April 21, and more than a dozen municipalities have non-partisan municipal elections on May 12.

Early voting begins in two weeks or the May municipal races, with vote-by-mail ballots set to go out on March 28.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said on Thursday that the state didn’t have any immediate plans to postpone the Atlantic City election.

State Sen. Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland) told the New Jersey Globe on Friday that he planned to ask Gov. Phil Murphy to postpone the March 30 filing deadline for two weeks.

On Monday, the Assembly Homeland Security Committee will consider bi-partisan legislation to give county clerks an additional week to mail VBM ballots for the June 2 New Jersey primary election.

There are also no proposed changes to a little-known state election law that permits the eleven municipalities with population under 500 to conduct elections entirely by mail.

VBM ballots are required to be mailed starting on April 18, and approval of the legislation would shorten the vote-by-mail window by seven days.

The proposed legislation does not include any changes to the May non-partisan municipal elections, the Globe has learned.

Two states have already announced they are postponing primary elections.

Georgia has moved their March 24 primary would be postponed until May 19, and Louisiana moved their April 4 primary to June 20.

Postponements of elections are rare.

In 2001, New Jersey moved its primary election date from June 5 to June 26 after delays in legislative redistricting.

Voting in the New York City mayoral primary had already commenced on September 11, 2001 when terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.  A judge ordered the election stopped and rescheduled two weeks later.

Early voting complicates the extension of filing deadlines and changes in the dates of elections.

The New York Times reported today that a postponement of the 2020 general election is highly unlikely, regardless of the effects of COVID-19.

According to the New York Times, it would be nearly impossible for President Donald Trump to cancel or postpone the election.

“The president has a lot of power, but when it comes to elections he is far more constrained than the governor of Louisiana,” the newspaper said.

Mark Elias, a Democratic election law expert, tweeted that “while states can set their own primary days, the federal general election is set by federal statute” for the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

“There is no special powers that would allow Trump to change the date of a general election, even in case of a national emergency,” Elias said on Twitter.  “When it comes to federal elections, there’s no wiggle room.”

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