The Assembly Judiciary Committee today advanced a package of election reform bills spearheaded by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge); the seven bills in the package previously cleared the Assembly State and Local Government Committee last month.
One of the more contentious measures was A3817, which would require early and absentee votes to be counted by election district rather than municipality, shorten the deadline for curing absentee ballots, and allow voters to apply for mail-in ballots and update their voter registration online, among other changes.
Henal Patel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice testified against the bill’s changes to the curing deadline, saying it would create an unfairly small window for voters. She argued that many voters using absentee ballots would not be able to receive and return cure notices within 9 days.
“They rely on snail mail,” Patel said, joining representatives from the League of Women Voters in urging the legislature to maintain the current 13 day window.
This bill also drew skepticism from Dale Florio, representing the state’s county clerks, who said expanding online voter registration capabilities would require clerks to compare electronic signatures with physical or “wet” signatures.
“If your objective is certainly convenience, understandable,” Florio said. “If you want to ensure that the person is who they are, the two wet signatures are really the only way that you can do it.”
Patel, speaking with the New Jersey Globe, rejected Florio’s concerns, saying that the clerks are already comparing e-signatures through the Automatic Voter Registration system.
In response to Florio’s testimony, Republican members attempted to amend the bill to require two physical signatures. This led to an unusual situation where Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) proposed an amendment, and Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn (R-Holmdel) unintentionally seconded a motion to table the amendment instead of supporting the amendment itself. After realizing her mistake, Flynn made a second motion to amend which was voted down by the committee.
The bill ultimately passed the committee by a vote of 3-0-2, with the 2 Republican committee members abstaining.
Another bill considered by the committee would allow Boards of Elections to begin processing and counting mail-in ballots five days before election day, which could speed up the release of unofficial election results. The bill would also require mail-in ballots postmarked by election day to arrive within three days of Election Day, instead of six days as is the case under current law.
This second measure drew the ire of the League of Women Voters and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, who said it would punish voters for the slow delivery time of the post office. The bill advanced out of the committee by a vote of 3-0-2, with Auth and Flynn abstaining.
The five other bills also advanced, with three doing so unanimously and two along party lines.