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VBM law ruled an unfunded mandate

By David Wildstein, November 15 2019 3:57 pm

The New Jersey Council on Local Mandates ruled today that provisions in New Jersey’s vote-by-mail law constituted an unfunded mandate that contradicts state law.

Some clerks had complained that the new VBM law approved last year resulted in a huge additional expense with over 240,000 mail-in ballots sent out for the 2019 general election.

The Legislature appropriated $2 million for reimbursement of mail-in ballots when they passed VBM reform last August.  Gov. Phil Murphy had frozen most of those funds.

“We find and determine that this appropriation constitutes a clear and unequivocal recognition by the Legislature that the mandate created by the amendments to the ‘Vote by Mail’ law required some degree of funding in order to be valid,” the council said in its ruling. “We find it unnecessary to pass upon the adequacy of such funding since it has not been made available for distribution to the counties.”

In the ruling, the council found that Murphy rendered  the funds “unavailable for the stated purpose.”

“In the absence of any funding of the mandate, we find and determine that the challenged laws constitute unfunded mandates,” the council ruled.

The ruling rejected a contention that the VBM law met an exemption of the unfunded mandate law, saying the council “holds that the challenged provisions of the law shall cease to be mandatory in their effect and shall forthwith expire.”

The request for funding had been filed by the New Jersey Association of Counties.

11-15-19 COLM Memorandum Decision and Order in NJAC COLM 0001-19

An earlier version of this story has been corrected.

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