Home>Feature>Raft of election reforms passes Senate committee

State Sen. Jim Beach at a committee meeting held in the Cellar of the Amalthea Winery in Atco. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe).

Raft of election reforms passes Senate committee

Legislation would raise poll worker pay, allow for pre-Election Day canvassing of votes

By Joey Fox, March 03 2022 12:04 pm

The Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee advanced a set of five election-related bills today, including two notable bills that would raise poll worker pay and allow for earlier vote counting, both of which have failed in previous legislative sessions.

Likely the most consequential of the five bills, and the only one to draw any opposition, is a bill sponsored by State Sens. Troy Singleton (D-Delran) and James Beach (D-Voorhees) that would allow county boards of elections to begin counting absentee and early votes prior to Election Day, in an attempt to limit the delays that plagued the 2021 elections. Under the bill’s provisions, absentee votes could be counted up to ten days before Election Day and early votes one day after the early voting period ends.

State Sen. Vince Polistina (R-Egg Harbor) expressed doubt during today’s committee hearing that some counties would need so much extra time to count ballots; his own Senate race in Atlantic County was called on election night last year, while Assemblywomen Marilyn Piperno (R-Colts Neck) and Kim Eulner (R-Shrewsbury), for example, could not be conclusively declared the winners in Monmouth County for 10 days.

“It doesn’t make any sense that it would take that long to count all the ballots,” Polistina said. “If we need more machines, or we need more poll workers, or if we need more of an ability to count these things the day of the election, then we should do that.”

But Beach, who also serves as committee chair, said that the bill did not require boards of election to begin counting earlier, and thus was flexible to the needs of each county around the state.

“It’s permissive,” Beach said. “You don’t have to start canvassing five days out, so it is permissive based on your county, and it allows for individual county needs.”

The bill ultimately passed with four votes in favor, including that of State Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Toms River), and Polistina opposed. A similar bill, also sponsored by Singleton, previously passed the Senate Budget Committee in the waning days of the lame duck session in January, but the legislative session ended before it could advance further.

The other piece of potentially momentous legislation that advanced today is a bill sponsored by Beach and State Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Lawrence) that would raise poll worker pay from $200 to $300 per day, something done on a temporary basis in recent elections which lawmakers want to make permanent. 

“Beyond the pandemic, a permanent pay increase is necessary to secure an adequate number of poll workers for each election cycle,” New Jersey Institute for Social Justice associate counsel Aaron Greene testified at today’s committee meeting. “With the ongoing labor shortage, it is vital that we increase the pay for poll workers to better attract and successfully recruit more New Jersey residents to serve in these roles.”

In the 2021 primary election, the legislature increased poll worker pay to $400 for that election alone, and Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order increasing pay to $300 for the general election. A precursor to today’s bill passed the Assembly in the lame duck session last year, but never made it to the governor’s desk.

Three other bills making more minor reforms to elections administration also passed today: one that would move a primary election filing deadline forward by one day so that it doesn’t sometimes fall on Good Friday, another that would expand the prohibition on electioneering near a polling place to include being within 25 feet of someone waiting in line to vote, and a third that would change deadlines for successful write-in candidates to accept a primary nomination.

All three, as well as the bill increasing poll worker pay, passed unanimously.

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