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VBM reform funding still frozen by Murphy

Council on Local Mandates set to hear challenge to cost of vote-by-mail law on September 23

By David Wildstein, September 05 2019 2:21 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration remains undecided about funding New Jersey’s new Vote-by-Mail law signed by the governor last month

County Clerks are due to mail VBM ballots on September 21 and the state Council on Local Mandates has scheduled a hearing on September 23 to determine if the mail-in ballot law creates an illegal unfunded mandate for county governments.

VBM reform legislation requires 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.

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.

The non-partisan New Jersey Office of Legislative Services said the cost of VBM reform was “indeterminate” but estimated it would not exceed the $2 million included in the legislation to reimburse county clerks for the expense of mailing additional ballots.

Murphy issued an executive order in July to freeze about $235 million in state spending.

The State Treasurer’s office says it still hasn’t decided if they would release funding for VBM ballots.

“It’s currently under review and we are working with the Department of State to determine the timing of the required disbursement,” said Jenn Sciortino, a spokesperson for State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio.  “All appropriations are subject to the processes outlined in Executive Order 73, which takes into account factors such as timing and statewide impact.”

The New Jersey Association of Counties (NJAC) field a complaint in January with the Council on Local Mandates, alleging that the requirement that county clerks automatically mail ballots to voters who have requested them in the past violates a constitutional prohibition against unfunded mandates.

The NJAC president is Brendan Gill, an Essex County freeholder and a political advisor to Murphy.

The council rejected a move by the state Attorney General’s office to dismiss the complaint.

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.

NJAC VBM complaint
NJOAG VBM
NJAC VBM response
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