Gov. Phil Murphy is sticking by an early voting bill moving its way through the legislature despite it providing for significantly fewer days for residents to cast their ballots ahead of an election than he would prefer.
“Without getting into the specifics of early voting, and I mean this not facetiously — I’ll take anything,” Murphy said at Wednesday’s virus briefing. “I think anything early is what the doctor ordered.”
The Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday amended and advanced its early voting bill, setting up a vote before the full chamber on Monday.
The amendments bring the bill into line with a proposal already approved by the full Senate that would provide three days of early voting for most primaries, five days of early voting for presidential primaries and nine days of early general election voting.
Early voting centers would be open on Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 8 PM and on Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM.
The early voting periods provided by that bill represent significant reductions from previous versions. Though those measures only allowed for early voting in general elections and for local seats in municipalities that passed an ordinance requesting early voting, they provided for a 15-day period.
Murphy last year said he wanted a 30-day early voting period, and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) has backed a bill that would allow 15 days of early voting since 2015, though that measure never made it to a committee.
While early voting comes with a potentially hefty price tag, most of those costs are related to startup. Counties must purchase electronic poll books and voting machines that can interface with them.
Officials haven’t worked out a firm price tag for that, but the $20 million set aside for it in the governor’s budget proposal will likely be insufficient. Passaic County officials have said they’d need roughly $8 million to establish early voting there, for instance.
A fiscal estimate for Sweeney’s bill pegged overtime costs related to early voting at about $1 million annually.
“Let’s start somewhere,” Murphy said. “We’ve got a lot of people of good will who want a good result here, and I’m confident that we’ll start in a good place and if we need to end in yet a different place, we’ll do that together.”