The Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced a bill that would extend to New Jerseyans living overseas the right to vote in local and state elections regardless of whether they were certain they would return to the Garden State.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold), passed in a bipartisan vote that saw opposition from three of the body’s Republican members, Assemblymen Kevin Rooney (R-Wyckoff), Brian Bergen (R-Denville) and Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains).
Webber and Bergen expressed concerns about allowing New Jersey residents who may have no plans to return to the state to vote in local and legislative elections.
“We should actively work to protect and enhance the rights of Americans living overseas to vote in our elections, but with no intent to return or no idea when they might return, giving folks a vote in state municipal elections or state legislative elections seems a bit too broad,” Webber said.
Under existing law, New Jerseyans living overseas are allowed to vote only in federal elections so long as they were last registered to vote — or last eligible to register — in New Jersey, are not registered to vote elsewhere and can prove their U.S. citizenship.
The bill advanced by the panel Wednesday would do away with a state form asking overseas voters whether they intend to return to the United States. Currently, a such voters must fill out a questionnaire that asks whether they’re certain about when or if they would return to America.
A voter who said they were uncertain could lose their right to vote in the state’s federal elections.
Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a similar bill before leaving office, eventually signing one that did not extend suffrage in local and state elections to New Jerseyans permanently living abroad.
The bill received some supportive testimony from New Jerseyans living abroad.
John Baumlin, a project manager based in Tokyo, and Candice Kerestan, the Munich-based international chair of Democrats Abroad, the international arm of the Democratic Party, each said the measure would expand ballot access.
“People check that box for all kinds of reasons, and when they do, they lose their right to vote in New Jersey, and regardless of how that question was answered before, until 2017, we had the right to vote at the state and local level,” Baumlin said. “This bill, A5306, gives us that right back.”
The international testimony was a point of some amusement for Assembly Appropriations Chairman John Burzichelli (D-Paulsboro).
“All we need is someone in Italy and we have the full Axis group Assembled again,” he said.