Home>Highlight>Senate fails to pass bill allowing pre-Election Day counting of mail-in, early votes

A bill to allow early counting of VBM ballots was pulled from the State Senate agenda on May 26, 2022 after failing to secure 21 votes for passage. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

Senate fails to pass bill allowing pre-Election Day counting of mail-in, early votes

Gill joined Republicans in sinking election reform bill

By Joey Fox, May 26 2022 2:23 pm

In a major surprise, the Senate today narrowly fell short of passing a bill that would allow counties to begin counting early and absentee votes prior to Election Day on a vote of 20-16; 21 votes were needed for passage.

Every Republican in attendance voted against the bill, as did State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair), a Democrat who often breaks with legislative leadership. Technically, the bill was pulled before it failed, so there won’t be an official record of the vote.

The bill, under which mail-in votes could be counted 10 days in advance and in-person early votes one day in advance, was intended to prevent the delays in vote counting seen during the 2021 general election, when several key legislative races remained uncalled for more than a week after Election Day. But Republicans and Gill raised concerns that early counting could lead to leaks, and three Democrats who could have pushed the bill over the top were absent from the legislature.

“Throughout our history, Americans have waited for election results, respecting democratic norms,” Gill said. “There is no valid reason, in my estimation, with this bill, to undermine the sanctity of our elections by rushing to count votes before Election Day.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have the faith my colleagues have that it doesn’t leak out,” State Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood) concurred. “Election Day is Election Day. And all of a sudden now we’re going to pretend that counting votes before Election Day is not going to get out at all?”

The bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran), countered that the state counted votes early in the 2020 election, and no problems arose from that decision.

“Folks did not leak the advancement of votes,” said Singleton, who pushed for a similar reform that petered out last session. “It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen then, and it won’t happen now.”

It’s not clear where the bill might go after today. A similar proposal has been working through the Assembly as part of a broader election reform package, but that bill also includes a number of other important changes to vote tabulation procedures, so it would be difficult to directly align the two chambers’ bills.

A second election reform bill, which makes technical changes to when victorious write-in candidates are required to accept nominations for office, fared better in the Senate today, passing unanimously after clearing the Assembly in March. Under current law, the deadline for write-in nominations is seven days after Election Day, but thanks to late-arriving mail ballots the outcome of a race may not yet be determined by that date; the bill passed today pushes the deadline back to the date of election certification.

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