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State Sen. Brian Stack. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Stack set to introduce early voting bill in coming weeks

Senate president, governor on board with early voting

By Nikita Biryukov, July 30 2020 3:11 pm

State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) intends to introduce a bill to allow early voting in the coming weeks.

“I would support it, and I’ll sponsor it,” Stack told the New Jersey Globe Thursday. “I have something I’m working on right now, and in fact, people are trying to help me on that, and I think we should have something over the next couple of weeks that I’ll be able to drop.”

Two of Trenton’s top Democrats have made their support for early voting known over the past two days.

In a departure from their often-frosty relationship, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Gov. Phil Murphy are both behind early voting, though they may differ somewhat on the details.

Sweeney has introduced a bill that would allow 15 days of early voting every legislative session since 2015, though that measure, which included other ballot-access provisions, never made it to a committee hearing over concerns about cost.

Murphy on Wednesday reiterated his support for early voting, though he suggested the state’s residents could be allowed to cast ballots in the 30 days preceding an election.

Most states that provide for early voting allow residents to cast ballots in the 15 days before an election, and Stack suggested New Jersey could end up with a similar proposal.

“Don’t get me wrong, I want to go back to, when it’s safe, having regular elections, but I think the more people that vote the better,” he said. “I’d love to see something 15 days out.”

The Hudson County senator hasn’t yet spoken about the bill with Assembly leadership, though he said his runningmates, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City) and Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Hoboken), are on board with the proposal.

Democrats are unlikely to oppose the measure, meaning it’ll likely pass if lawmakers can find the money to find the program.

A 2015 fiscal estimate for Sweeney’s Democracy Act pegged early voting’s cost at $21 million in the first year with annual payments of $1 million in the following years.

Stack said those costs have risen in the past five years, to roughly $24 million.

The cost has been the biggest barrier to early voting in past years, Sweeney said, and it’s not clear where the state would find the money to administer early voting amid a pandemic that has seen the state’s revenue forecasts drop by roughly $10 billion.

There’s also the question of timing. With just over three months remaining until the general election, lawmakers will have to move quickly to pass the measure to give election officials enough time to administer early voting.

The timeline might be complicated further by guidance on the general election Murphy is expected to issue in mid-August. It’s not clear yet what November’s races will look like, but a mostly vote-by-mail election, like the one held earlier this month, could prevent voters from casting an early machine vote.

Still, Stack thinks lawmakers can push the measure through in time.

“If the will is there, I think we can make it happen,” Stack said. “I think as long as we get it in in the month of August, before September 1st, we can make it work.”

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