ZWICKER, BENSON & FREIMAN BILL TO PROTECT VOTER RIGHTS, EDUCATE PUBLIC AND ELECTION STAFF ON VOTE-BY-MAIL CLEARS COMMITTEE

Protecting people’s right to vote in the midst of a pandemic threatening public health and safety, the Assembly State and Local Government Committee advanced a measure on Thursday sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Roy Freiman concerning vote-by-mail (VBM).

The bill (A-4320) would require the Secretary of State to create public awareness materials that includes informational posters to be displayed at polling places on VBM, information for voters on how to check the status of a mailed ballot and educational materials for county board of elections employees on standards for accepting or rejecting a mailed-in ballot.

“Safe and fair voting is a pillar of our democracy,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “Doing everything to ensure voters are fully prepared with the know-how to vote by mail and to ensure this method of voting is fair and transparent is critical to prevent voter suppression and protect the vote.”

During New Jersey’s municipal and school board elections in May, election officials did not count 9.6 percent of ballots sent in. This measure would prohibit a mail-in ballot being rejected due to missing or insufficient glue when such physical defects are outside of the voter’s control. Ballots deemed invalid must also be retained for two years.

“Recent months have revealed concerning flaws in our vote-by-mail system, many the result of simple, avoidable error,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “As we look to the general election in November, this legislation ensures voters are not only armed with the information to vote-by-mail, but also that mail-in ballots aren’t unduly being rejected and left uncounted.”

The deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots bearing a postmark on or before Election Day would be extended from two days after the closing of polls to six days.

“With more than six million registered voters in New Jersey and a lot at stake in the upcoming general election, it’s imperative to continually improve the VBM process,” said Freiman (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “Helping to educate people as well as the county election staff counting mail-in ballots would build more trust and confidence among voters, and combat misinformation to safeguard people’s right to vote.”

The bill now heads to the Speaker for further consideration.