More than 14,000 voters in the 8th legislative district voted by mail in the 2018 mid-term elections – an increase of over 3,300 from the 2016 presidential election.
Just 3,438 mail-in votes were cast in the off-off-year 2015 election, the last time candidates for State Assembly topped the ballot.
Those numbers create a considerable obstacle for Republicans as they seek to hold two Assembly seats they won by narrow margins in 2017.
Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) was among the fourteen legislators – all Republicans – who voted against VBM reform legislation on Tuesday. The bill passed both houses this week and Gov. Phil Murphy signed it into law on Wednesday.
“It is an anti-democratic vote plain and simple,” said Democratic Assembly candidate Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale. “Ryan Peters is clearly running scared and is willing to resort to voter suppression tactics to hold onto his seat. It dishonors the legacy of those who fought to expand voting rights across our country and is deeply in-congruent with the values of voters in South Jersey.”
LaPlaca and Natale accused Peters of “resorting to shady, undemocratic tactics.”
Peters dismissed the statements of his Democratic rivals.
“To say I’m a proponent of voter suppression is laughable,” said Peters, a Navy SEAL. “I spent the better part of my career fighting tyrants in Iraq so oppressed citizens would have the right to vote.”
According to Peters, LaPlaca and Natale “are showing their lack of knowledge about this bill.”
“It does nothing to expand anyone’s right to vote. It only spends at least $2 million to change the vote-by-mail system from an opt in to an opt out and creates confusion a month before ballots are being sent out. People already have the right to choose to vote by mail,” Peters said. “Maybe my opponents don’t mind setting $2 million of taxpayer money on fire but I do.”
Peters won an open Assembly seat in 2017 by 350 votes. His running mate, incumbent Joe Howarth (R-Evesham), won by 520 votes.
Howarth lost the June Republican primary after losing support of the Burlington GOP organization. Peters is now running with former Sheriff Jean Stanfield, one of Burlington’s most popular vote-getters.