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

Suite of voting access bills headed to Murphy’s desk

By Nikita Biryukov, August 27 2020 5:43 pm

The Senate and Assembly sent a suite of voting access bills to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk Thursday, with some causing sharp splits along party lines.

The majority of the Thursday’s debates centered around a bill requiring secure ballot drop boxes in each county in the seven days preceding an election.

Some Republicans raised alarms over last-minute amendments to the bill that could keep drop boxes out of some rural New Jersey towns.

The bill stipulates that drop boxes must be placed in county government buildings where the main office of the county clerk is located. They make a similar stipulation for municipal clerks, though drop boxes will only be placed in towns with a population of at least 5,000 residents.

State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa), a former Passaic County Clerk, warned that the population provision could disenfranchise voters in rural, largely Republican towns.

“They will feel they’re being treated differently, and they are,” she said.

Voters in such towns can still use the secure ballot drop boxes, though it’s possible a lengthy drive could dissuade some. In any case, they can still mail in their ballots.

Separately, lawmakers in both chambers passed a bill allowing voters to cure rejected mail-in ballots until 48 hours before the election certification deadline. If the certification deadline moves, the cure deadline does as well.

That bill saw its own share of amendments Thursday. A previous version included a 14-day cure period, but that was changed to avoid voters returning cured ballots after election results had already been certified.

Lawmakers also delayed a provision that would have allowed voters to leave a phone number or email address on their mail-in ballot envelope for curing purposes. If it’s signed into law, that portion of the bill will go into effect in February.

It was nixed for November’s races because envelopes have already been printed, and the cost of replacing more than 5 million envelopes would have been prohibitive, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), the bill’s sponsor, said.

A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti that would have extended the grace period for late-arriving mail-in ballots to six days and allowed voters to drop such ballots off with their municipal clerk was rolled into a bill mandating a campaign to educate New Jersey residents about mail-in voting.

The bill also bars election officials from rejecting a ballot because of defects out of a voters control, such as faulty glue.

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