Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration and top Democrats in the legislature are in talks over early voting, and hopes are high that the system could be in place in time for this year’s general elections.
“If it were to come to pass before the election in November, I would, as a general matter without commenting on a specific bill — I suspect [Lt. Gov. Sheila OIiver] would join me in this regard — we’d be very supportive of that,” Murphy said Friday.
After Murphy reiterated his support for early voting last week, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) told the New Jersey Globe they also supported for the proposal.
State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) told The Globe he had an early voting bill in the works that was due to drop in the coming weeks.
Though the Democrats have backed early voting at various times over the past several years, the proposals always stalled over funding concerns. Its startup costs are estimated to be roughly $24 million, with $1 million in annual upkeep costs.
But, with a pandemic making election-day crowds typically seen at polling places a public health hazard, early voting has emerged as an attractive alternative.
“The reason I like it again is you don’t put all your marbles into one day,” Murphy said Friday. “If NJ Transit has a bad day or the weather is lousy and then you add to that a public health emergency, and the ability to space out any in-person voting is another attraction.”
Still, there are some hurdles.
“The only challenge with implementation is early voting requires electronic poll books,” Murphy chief counsel Matt Platkin said. “There’s a procurement challenge in doing that between August and November, but we certainly open to any ideas that the legislature has on this that expands access to the ballot, particularly during a public health emergency.”
Election officials have also told the New Jersey Globe they have little confidence in their own ability to establish an early voting system in the next two or two-and-a-half months.
The time horizons those officials give vary widely, with some claiming they would need as much as two years to enact early voting.
But if anything spikes early voting, it won’t be disagreement between the state’s top Democrats.
“In our deliberations over the past several years, there hasn’t been a lot of disagreement about it either,” Murphy said. “So, I think the time is now, and I’m glad you raise it because it gives us a chance repeat and again, I take my hat off to both the senate president and the speaker for their support of this.”