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

Murphy signs VBM reform law

Vote-by-mail voters from 2017 and 2018 will automatically receive mail-in ballots in November 2019

By David Wildstein, August 28 2019 11:25 am

Gov. Phil Murphy today signed into law VBM reform legislation that will require county clerks to provide vote-by-mail ballots to any voters who requested them in the last three general elections and in any other November elections going forward.

Voters will need to pro-actively opt out of receiving mail-in ballots.  Otherwise, they will be considered forever VBM voters.

The Legislature returned to for a rare August session to pass the VBM reform bills after the state Division of Elections decided that the vote-by-mail law approved last year did not apply to requests for mail-in ballots that came in after the 2016 presidential election.

Legislation to ensure that the 2017 and 2018 VBM voters received ballots for the off-off-year 2019 elections was introduced on Friday.  The Senate returned on Monday to pass the bill, and the Assembly did the same on Tuesday.

Both houses passed VBM reform in party-line votes.

The new law is expected to heavily favor Democratic candidates, especially in the 8th, 21st and 25th district Assembly races.

In 2018, Democratic running for Congress in the towns that comprise the 21st legislative district won 55% of the machine vote in 2018, while winning 71% of the vote-by-mail.  The 10-point machine margin was microscopic compared to the combined Democratic House vote VBM margin of 42 points.

Close Assembly races are not at all unusual and three contests over the last six years have been won by margins of under 80 votes.

The New Jersey Globe first reported a determination by the Division of Elections that voters who requested VBM ballots in 2017 and 2018 must reapply.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), a sponsor of the original legislation, said the Division of Elections action did not comply with the intent of the VBM bill.

Zwicker sponsored the VBM reform bill, along with Patricia Egan Jones (D-Barrington), Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill), Adam Taliaferro (D-Woolrich) and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton).

“We should all want every eligible voter to be able to participate in elections. The more people who vote, the better representation New Jerseyans will have at the polls,” said the five Democratic sponsors of the bill.  “Today, with this law, we clarify the intent of the original law and remove any obstruction under current statute that would prevent a registered voter from casting their ballot by mail.”

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