Home>Highlight>Supplemental ELEC funding begins progressing through legislature

Assemblyman Bill Moen, center. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Supplemental ELEC funding begins progressing through legislature

New Voter Empowerment Act, other election reform bills clear committee

By Joey Fox, May 11 2023 3:08 pm

A month after the Elections Transparency Act substantially reshaped the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), the Assembly State and Local Government Committee approved a new bill today that would boost ELEC’s budget by nearly 30%, from $5.5 million to $7 million.

The committee also cleared three other election-related bills: one to require regular reporting of election results after Election Day; another to make various changes to election deadlines; and a third, the “New Voter Empowerment Act,” to allow some 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections.

The ELEC funding bill – which was sponsored by the Assembly’s two top Democrats, Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) and Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees) – was first proposed on March 30, the same day that the Elections Transparency Act passed the full legislature.

Under the provisions of the Elections Transparency Act, ELEC will have to issue campaign finance complaints within two years of a violation, a timeline that ELEC officials said would be unworkable with its current staffing and funding levels. The additional $1.5 million, then, appears to be a response to those concerns; the committee approved it on a bipartisan 5-0 vote.

The New Voter Empowerment Act, on the other hand, was more contentious, clearing the committee 3-2 with both Republican legislators voting no.

Originally a brainchild of State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) – and once vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie way back in 2016 – the bill would extend the franchise in primaries to 17-year-olds as long as they’ll turn 18 by the general election, a policy already in place in 18 states and Washington D.C.

Zwicker was long the bill’s champion in the Assembly, but with his ascension to the Senate last year, a new Assembly prime sponsor emerged: Assemblyman Bill Moen (D-Bellmawr), who at 36 years old is much closer to 17 than many of his colleagues.

“What I’ve heard from college students and high school students is how they’re energized about getting involved in voting,” Moen told the New Jersey Globe today. “As a legislature, we should be looking to identify these kinds of opportunities to engage our younger generation.”

But the committee’s two Republicans, Assemblymen Ned Thomson (R-Wall) and Erik Simonsen (R-Lower), disagreed, saying that the current voting age was sufficiently low. Thomson said he wasn’t even sure the Constitution’s 26th Amendment, which lowered the federal voting age from 21 to 18, was a good idea.

“It’s my personal opinion that making [the voting age] any younger than 21 was probably not the best idea, but I understand the reasoning behind it,” Thomson said. “I can’t support going less than [18], especially when you’re talking about a primary, which in my opinion in many cases is the most important part of the election process.”

Finally, the committee cleared two amended bills that it had already passed once before earlier this year. One reworks general election deadlines to accommodate other recent changes to election procedures, while the other requires county clerks to issue daily reports following Election Day on ballots counted and those still outstanding.

Both bills passed 5-0 after getting the support of several election officials in attendance, though the election deadline bill did draw some concern from school board officials.

“With all the changes that have occurred in election law over the past several years … I’d like to commend you on this bill, because it gives the clerks, boards of elections, and superintendents more time to prepare a ballot,” Hunterdon County Clerk Mary Melfi said of the election deadline bill. “For us, it’s a breather, and we thank you for it.”

Spread the news: