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March 1, 2013

Re:      League opposes early voting bills A3553 and S2364

Dear Mayor:

The League opposes two bills currently in the legislature that would require early voting: A3553, introduced by Assemblyman Wisniewski, and S2364, introduced by Senator Nia Gill.

These bills would require for each primary and general election a public facility, except a public school, located in an area of a high concentration of population be open and available to registered voters starting 15 days before an election for early polling.  If there are more than 30,000 register voters  in a municipality, additional early voting sites must be designated in proportion to the number of register voters in that municipality.  The early polling locations must be open Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m (12 noon to 6 p.m. in the Senate version).  Any voter in line at the time of closing must be permitted to vote. 

As a result, in many towns, this would mean that the municipal building, community center, or other frequently used public building be open and staffed by poll workers during the early voting time.  Use of these buildings for early voting would likely conflict with if not push out other important uses for these buildings.  A municipality may need to reschedule things like council meetings, meetings of land use boards, or municipal court dates, causing inconvenience for the taxpayers of the municipality.

These bills also require retraining of poll workers and dramatically increased hours, as well as chain of custody requirements to protect the voting process.  Currently, it is very difficult to find poll workers for the Primary and General election. A 2007 report by the Pew Research Center indentified numerous issues with the recruitment, training, and compensation for poll workers.  These bills would only add to the problem by requiring the increase in the hours for poll workers.

We are also extremely concerned about the cost associated with the provisions of A3553 and S2364.  A municipality would incur increased costs transporting election materials to and from such polling places every day for two weeks, rescheduling meetings to accommodate the use of public buildings, and paying over time to municipal employees forced to work extended hours and weekends.  For example, the municipal clerk is required by law to be in office during polling hours.  These bills would require the clerk to be in office 66-68 hours a week for two weeks.  Many municipalities rely on public works to set up, take down, and transport election materials and polling places.  Their hours would also increase.  All this leads to increased costs.

Although these bills contain a provision for reimbursement for any additional costs as well as an appropriation, we remain concerned by the language.  The appropriation does not outline a specific amount, only that which the State Treasurer and the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting deem necessary.  We question what would happen if the appropriation proves insufficient.  In addition, the bill does not make clear who determines if a reimbursement request submitted by a municipality is related to the new early voting rules.  The bills do not outline the procedure for a municipality whose reimbursement request is denied.  Therefore, we believe these bills needs a fiscal analysis by the Office of Legislative Services to determine the costs to municipalities and thus the needed appropriation amount.

The League strongly believes these bills would cause an unnecessary upheaval to the voting process in municipalities in New Jersey.  Although a few states had issues with long lines and disenfranchised voters in the 2012 Presidential election, New Jersey performed quite well, even in light of Hurricane Sandy.  Further, New Jersey already has a form of early voting, in that voters may request and cast absentee ballots without an excuse.  Any voter may request an absentee ballot be sent to their home, or they may go in person to county locations and obtain a ballot there.  This system has worked well for a number of years.

A3553 and S2364 introduce new, complex, and potentially expensive processes without any dedicated funding mechanism unnecessarily as we currently have a process the permits voters every opportunity to vote and participate in the democratic process.  

We have a sample resolution opposing these bills (link).  Please send any completed resolutions to the League.  If you have any questions or require further information, please contact Matthew Weng at 609-695-3481 ext 137 or at mweng@njslom.com.

Very truly yours,

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director

 

 

 

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