The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee cleared two bills today related to voting restrictions and access: one which would allow voters to cure mail-in ballots that are missing a certificate, and another which would give New Jersey voters living abroad the right to vote in all state and local elections.
Both bills were previously passed by the Assembly over the summer; the ballot-curing bill passed 50-25, and the overseas voter bill 49-25.
But despite the relatively drama-free proceedings, the bill prompted discussion of the larger changes that may be needed in New Jersey elections – discussions which have been especially relevant in recent days, with votes still being counted from an election held nearly two weeks ago.
Following testimony from Monmouth County Board of Elections Commissioner Eileen Kean against the ballot-curing bill, saying that it would add yet another complex factor to an already difficult ballot-counting process, Committee Chair James Beach (D-Voorhees) indicated that the state still has a ways to go in streamlining its existing voting laws.
“I think the whole state needs to … work out some of the tweaks that we experienced with early voting and with the electronic poll books,” he said. “I think the state needs to come together and look at all these things.”
Gov. Phil Murphy has made similar comments on the state’s elections administration; asked last week whether the ballot-counting process could be optimized, he said his administration would have discussions and look for ways to improve.
“I think we have to review – we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the strongest, 21st-century voting reality,” Murphy said. “I’m open to anything we can do to strengthen democracy and continue to make this as transparent and as straightforward as possible.”
The election bills cleared today are not inherently contradictory with the goal of making elections administration more efficient. But they do highlight a potential sticking point in the coming legislative session: between Murphy’s desire for expanded voter access, and fears that doing so will make Election Day steadily more unwieldy and untenable.