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

Election officials can count ballots 10 days before polls close

By Nikita Biryukov, September 01 2020 1:43 pm

New Jersey’s election officials will be able to start counting mail-in ballots 10 days before election day under a law Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law last week.

The provision, first reported by Politico New Jersey Tuesday, was added into the bill requiring secure ballot drop boxes be installed for the 45 days preceding an election along with a suite of other amendments on Aug. 24

Many of those changes codified portions of Murphy’s executive order mandating that November’s races be conducted almost entirely using mail-in ballots. A senior administration source confirmed to the New Jersey Globe that the provision was inserted into the bill after a request from the front office.

The administration wants to ensure that ballot counts are done by the time the electoral college convenes in November. The governor’s executive order did not allow for early counts.

Last December, State Sen. Jim Beach (D-Voorhees) sought to pass a similar measure, though it was waylaid by criticism from Republican lawmakers, progressive activists and the COVID-19 crisis.

More recently, the senator introduced a bill that would allow county election boards to open inner and outer mail-in ballot envelopes in the five days preceding an election but barred election officials from canvassing ballots until the close of polls. That bill cleared the Senate State and Local Government Committee in mid-August but hasn’t moved since.

The earlier Beach bill was hammered by Republicans and progressives who feared election boards would leak early returns to friendly campaigns, giving them a strategic advantage in the final days of a race.

The new bill makes such leaks a third-degree crime carrying a penalty of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $15,000.

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