The State Senate Labor Committee advanced a bill on Thursday that nearly doubles the current limit on how much time a minor can serve as an Election Day poll worker.
The bill, sponsored by State Sens. Pat Diegnan (D-South Plainfield) and Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro), creates a carve out allowing minors between the ages of 16 and 18 to work from 5:30 a.m. to 9 PM on the day of an election.
The current state law, sponsored by then-Assemblyman Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) in 2002, allows 16 and 17-year-old to work eight-hours on Election Day, with the consent of a parent and a school official.
“With the upcoming election occurring in the midst of a pandemic, it is important to allow individuals who are 16 to 18 years of age to serve as poll workers on election days,” Diegnan said. “This will help reduce the risk of exposing our seniors, who make up the bulk of the poll workers and are the demographic most vulnerable, to the coronavirus.”
The measure passed unanimously.
The bill’s movement comes as New Jersey prepares to hold its third election amid the COVID-19 crisis. While in-person voting was largely sidelined during non-partisan municipal races in May, the state faced a shortage of poll workers during its July primaries.
Though most votes in the latter election were cast by mail, counties were required to have at least 50% of their regular polling places open, with at least in one county. In some cases, that bar wasn’t reached.
“This is a great opportunity to encourage our younger generation to get more involved in politics, and become lifelong voters,” Greenstein said. “Even though they will not be able to vote on Election Day, working at the polls will be a valuable experience that they will enjoy and learn from.”
Correction: an earlier version of this story stated that state law currently bars anyone under the age of 18 from manning the polls on election day.