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Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Early voting up before Assembly Appropriations Wednesday

Pre-election voting periods cut short for primaries

By Nikita Biryukov, February 22 2021 3:50 pm

The Assembly Appropriations Committee will consider a bill establishing in-person early voting in New Jersey Wednesday after marijuana negotiations scuttled a planned hearing last week.

The proposal, which won approval from the State Senate Monday, would require counties to establish early voting centers, with the number dictated by a given county’s population, in the days preceding an election.

The bill would provide for three days of early voting for a non-presidential primary, beginning on the Friday before the election and ending the following Sunday. Presidential primaries would go for five days, instead starting on the Wednesday preceding an election.

General elections would have the longest early voting period, beginning 10 days before election day and ending the Sunday immediately preceding the opening of polls.

The centers would be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Sample ballots must list clearly the location and operating hours of early voting centers.

The bill’s Assembly sponsor, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) said the bill would include an appropriation to cover counties’ costs related to the purchase of electronic poll books, voting machines that can interface with said poll books and printers that can produce ballots on-demand.

The latter tranche will cost the state $2 million, but the size of the total appropriation remains unclear, Zwicker said. Those printers and the new machines will be able to identify a voter’s residence and provide them with a ballot correct all the way down to county committee members.

“If Jane Smith comes in and lives in district three of Montclair, if the system’s working — and other states are doing this already — she signs in and walks over to the machine. It knows that’s her, and bang,” he said. “She’s got the ballot that is only for district three.”

Legislators are airing on the side of caution to ensure counties don’t get hit with uncovered costs. They’re calculating by multiplying the high-end cost for machines against the number needed in each county. The process is the same for electronic poll books.

The total size of the appropriation is expected to exceed $25 million and will include some money for additional labor costs related to the management of early voting centers.

“Everyone’s agreed the appropriation will be there,” Zwicker said. “It’s not going to be an unfunded mandate.”

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