Home>Highlight>Assembly panel clears bills barring police from polling places, allowing election officials to decide drop box placement

Assembly panel clears bills barring police from polling places, allowing election officials to decide drop box placement

Measures would also ban electioneering within 100 ft. of a drop box

By Nikita Biryukov, March 18 2021 12:31 pm

The Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday advanced bills allowing county election boards to decide the placement of ballot drop boxes and bans on- and off-duty police officers from loitering within 100 ft. of a drop box.

The former bill allows county election boards to decide the placement of ballot drop boxes by a simple majority vote. In the case of a tie, the county clerk casts the deciding vote.

Under the bill, each county must erect at least 10 ballot drop boxes, with at least one box in each municipality with average per capita or median family incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty line.

The bill is a bid to prevent drop box clusters seen in some towns in last year’s elections. The rules used for those races required drop boxes be placed at specific sites, including county and municipal government buildings, community colleges and state universities.

Those requirements in some cases led to drop boxes with mere hundreds of feet between them, limiting placement in other locations.

The Assembly State and Local Government Committee cleared that measure in a 4-2 vote along party lines. The Senate passed the measure in a 25-13 vote in February, but will have to do so again, as Assembly lawmakers amended it Wednesday.

The other bill, which also cleared the panel in a 4-2 party-line vote, would bar police officers, whether they be on- or off-duty and regardless of whether they’re in uniform, from standing within 100 ft. of a polling place during an election.

That prohibition does not prevent officers from voting, nor does it prevent officers from remaining in their homes if those fall within the 100-foot limit.

It also blocks municipalities from assigning police to enforce election laws unless they’re specifically requested by an election board, superintendent of elections or county clerk.

The bill would still allow local and county police authorities to assist in the transport of ballots.

It also bars electioneering within 100 ft. of a ballot drop box. Last year, numerous candidates held rallies at drop boxes as a means of getting out the vote. Violating that provision — which also bans clothing and other items bearing political slogans and other indicators within 100 ft. of a drop box — would be a disorderly persons offense.

The bill cleared the Senate last month but was amended in the Assembly on March 1, so it will need to clear full votes in both chambers before reaching Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

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