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Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Coughlin: ‘We should certainly consider’ early voting

Third Democratic leader signals support for early voting

By Nikita Biryukov, July 30 2020 5:05 pm

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) said New Jersey’s lawmakers should consider enacting an early voting program in the state Thursday.

“Look, I think we should do everything to give people the opportunity to vote,” he said. “And early voting, I think, has demonstrated that we get more people to the polls, and so I think we should certainly consider that.”

Though Coughlin’s support for the proposal was slightly more measured than that of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Gov. Phil Murphy, who both issued ringing endorsements of the policy this week, his comments mean all three of Trenton’s top Democrats are in favor of allowing voters to cast their ballots in-person ahead of election day.

State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) is set to introduce an early voting bill in the coming weeks.

Though details remain scant about that measure, it’s likely to provide a 15-day early voting period. In comments made at Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing, Murphy mentioned 30 days of early voting.

Despite the agreement between top Democrats, the bill may face some hurdles before reaching the governor’s desk.

For one, there’s money.

Sweeney has introduced a bill that would allow for early voting in the state each legislative session since 2015, but that bill never made it to a committee hearing, largely because of the associated costs.

A 2015 fiscal estimate said it would cost the state $21 million to create its early voting system and $1 million annually in subsequent years.

Stack said the startup cost may now be closer to $24 million.

With its finances sent into a tumble by the pandemic, it’s not clear whether lawmakers would be able to find the money.

Further, it’s not clear whether election officials could build an early voting system by Nov. 3, nor is it apparent how early voting would mesh with guidance Murphy is expected to issue for the general election in mid-August.

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