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Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.

Murphy won’t say if he agrees with mail-in ballot ruling

Governor says he’s open to changes in VBM law down the road

By Nikita Biryukov, August 19 2019 3:12 pm

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Gov. Phil Murphy deflected questions on his administration’s ruling that blocks voters who requested mail-in ballots in 2017 and 2018 from receiving such ballots perpetually.

“To the best of my knowledge, it’s possible the Secretary of State and her team have had an exchange with a particular county,” Murphy said when asked if he agreed with the ruling. “I’m not aware of that, but that’s a potential reason for that being triggered, but to the best of my knowledge, there’s no new blanket guidance.”

The vote-by-mail law Murphy signed into law granted voters who previously requested mail-in ballots perpetual VBM status unless they chose to opt out.

The ruling limits the scope of that law, applying it only to voters who requested mail-in ballots in or before 2016.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), one of the bill’s co-sponsors in the legislature’s lower chamber, last week told the New Jersey Globe that the Murphy administration ruling went against legislative intent.

“The legislative intent was always to make sure it was for all those years,” Zwicker told the New Jersey Globe last week. “The intent was not to cut it off at a certain date.”

Murphy obfuscated when asked whether he shared Zwicker’s views on the legislature’s intentions when passing the bill.

“I think in harmony to open up democracy. It’s one step, and again we were all very happy that we were headed in the right direction, but it’s one step of many more that we need to take,” Murphy said. “It created some confusion in certain counties, which I think our folks have been, the secretary of state and her team, have been trying to clean up.”

County clerks were told about the change to the rule in a July conference call with state Division of Elections director Robert Giles.

Around that time the state Division of Elections suspended distribution of mail-in ballots to voters who requested them in 2017 and 2018.

Though he hedged on whether he backed his administration’s ruling, Murphy suggested he would still support ballot access measures down the line.

“The principle of opening up democracy as we did dramatically with that step last year on vote-by-mail, you should assume will continue to be a theme, whether it’s vote by mail or how folks can register,” Murphy said.

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