A Senate Panel advanced a bill that would allow election officials to begin opening vote-by-mail ballots in the five days preceding an election Thursday.
The measure, advanced by the State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee in a vote along party lines, would not allow county election boards to conduct early ballot counts.
State Sens. Samuel Thompson (R-Old Bridge) and Christopher Brown (R-Ventnor) voted no.
Should the bill be signed into law, ballot counts would only be allowed once polls open, though it’s not clear how the proposal would interact with an early-voting bill the committee also advanced Thursday.
Essentially, the bill, sponsored by State Sens. Jim Beach (D-Voorhees) and Shirley Turner (D-Ewing), would allow election officials to process mail-in ballots sooner in a bid to deliver counts more quickly after polls have closed.
“With the Governor’s announcement to send every voter a mail-in ballot this November, it is critical we proactively address the logistical challenges county clerks may face with such an influx of mail-in-ballots,” Beach said. “Allowing clerks to begin processing ballots earlier will enable county boards of elections to begin counting promptly on Election Day and help to reduce delays in results.”
Last year, Beach sponsored a bill that would have pushed back candidate filing deadlines to provide county clerks with more time to send out VBM ballots and avoid overtime expenses, but that bill also included a provision allowing for early counts that clerks did not request.
That measure cleared the Senate State Government committee unanimously before outcry from progressives and Republicans concerned that leaked early counts could help establishment-backed Democrats adjust campaign strategies in the final days of an election killed the bill.
The newer bill requires officials to take measures “to ensure the security and secrecy of the mail-in ballots,” but does not provide a list of requirements for such measures.