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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Early voting may be law by primary day, Murphy says

With a long waiting period and negotiations still ongoing, it’s not likely

By Nikita Biryukov, January 04 2021 2:35 pm

This story was updated at 3:42 p.m.

New Jersey voters may be able to cast their votes at a polling place before this year’s primary elections, Gov. Phil Murphy said.

“Early voting, without commenting on the specifics of the bill, I’m all in, and I think if we move quickly enough, I believe it can be in effect for primaries,” he said at Monday’s virus briefing.

Murphy, a vocal proponent of in-person early voting in recent months, has repeatedly said he believed the state’s voting systems could be improved by introducing the practice, and while lawmakers lacked the runway to enact early voting ahead of November’s elections, they’re not looking to miss another chance.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee will on Thursday hold a hearing on a bill that would provide 14 days of early voting — starting 15 days before election day and ending the Sunday before it. The measure cleared the Assembly State and Local Government Committee in October but hasn’t moved in the Senate.

Still, Senate President Steve Sweeney has for years sponsored a bill that would allow early in-person voting, among a swath of other election reforms, and he’s said he would support a standalone early voting bill, though it’s not clear that support would stretch to the current measure.

Murphy, for one, demurred when asked whether there was an agreement between his office and legislative leadership on the matter. Sweeney, characteristically, put it in clearer terms: There’s no agreement yet.

While the governor and Parimal Garg, his chief counsel, said the bill may pass swiftly enough to allow early voting for this year’s primaries, that runway is a short one.

The bill wouldn’t go into effect until 120 after it was signed into law. County election boards would be given another 15 days to submit their early voting plans to Secretary of State Tahesha Way, who could require the plans be changed in the 45 days following the bill’s going into effect.

Adding to those troubles are county clerks’ concerns that the Statewide Voter Registration System needs upgrades to facilitate early voting, and those upgrades aren’t likely to be made before summer.

If the bill passes swiftly — there’s no Senate action scheduled yet, but it could pass the full Assembly as early as next Monday — early voting may still not be the law of the land by the state’s June 8 primaries.

“Definitely for the general,” Garg said.

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