Home>Highlight>More election reforms clear Assembly committee, including bill requiring updated reporting of election results

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin at the groundbreaking for the Portal North Bridge. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

More election reforms clear Assembly committee, including bill requiring updated reporting of election results

If enacted, county clerks would publish regular tallies of counted and uncounted ballots

By Joey Fox, February 16 2023 4:47 pm

Four more bills reforming New Jersey’s elections administration cleared the Assembly State and Local Government Committee today, including one notable bill that would require county clerks to update election results and uncounted ballot tallies every day following an election.

Currently, every county clerk in New Jersey reports initial results on their websites on Election Day, but in the following days some clerks neglect to update the results frequently or at all, and there’s no mechanism for determining how many votes remain uncounted. That causes a lack of transparency in close races where late-counted votes mail-in or provisional ballots could shift the final outcome.

“In recent years, we have seen how inconsistent reporting can lead to voter confusion and, unfortunately, faster conspiracy theories online,” testified Micauri Vargas of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “This bill will help address those issues.”

A similar provision was initially part of a massive raft of election-related bills last year, but it was removed shortly before the bills were passed and signed into law. The new bill was introduced by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) just last week; its Senate counterpart has not yet been heard in committee.

Two other bills that were approved today, A5175 and A5177, concern a wide array of primary and general election deadlines related to filing petitions, printing ballots, conducting recounts, and more.

“[These bills] are a result of some unintended consequences that arose from a bill the legislature passed back in June of 2022,” Committee Chair Anthony Verrelli (D-Hopewell) said. “As anyone who deals with these types of matters knows, when you change one election deadline, there is a potential for that to have a ripple effect on deadlines in various other statutes.”

In towns that have runoff elections for municipal offices, the legislation would move the date for reorganization of government from January 1 to January 15 (or within the following week). The change is likely designed to avoid a repeat of what happened this year in Trenton, where the city council nearly had to reconvene without a quorum of duly elected councilmembers due to several unresolved runoff results.

Finally, one bill would require county clerks to provide accessibility-oriented mail-in ballots for voters with disabilities and allow those ballots to be returned electronically in some cases. The bill drew a large number of supporters, many of them from the blind community, who said that voting should be made far easier for people with disabilities.

“Voting is a fundamental right, and individuals with disabilities must have the same opportunity to vote independently and privately as individuals without disabilities, in whatever manner of voting a person chooses,” testified Mary Ciccone of Disability Rights New Jersey. “This bill will ensure that individuals with visual and/or dexterity impairments have equal access to the vote-by-mail system.”

The bill drew an abstention from Assemblyman Erik Simonsen (R-Lower), who said he’s awaiting amendments to see if his security-related concerns are addressed; the other three bills were approved unanimously.

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