New law: Early, in-person voting starts this fall in New Jersey
TRENTON — In-person voting for this year’s gubernatorial election opens Oct. 23, 10 days earlier than normal, under a bill signed into law Tuesday expanding early voting beyond mail-in ballots in New Jersey.
Gov. Phil Murphy was joined at the virtual bill signing ceremony by Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia state lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate whose Fair Fight Action organization has been credited for the rise in voter turnout that flipped her state’s presidential and U.S. Senate election to the Democrats.
“Today — I don’t say this lightly — New Jersey reminds the nation that our democracy is made stronger when we make it easier for the people’s voices to be heard, that our democracy wins when we open the doors of our polling places wide instead of slamming them shut,” Murphy said.
Murphy and others noted that New Jersey lawmakers gave final approval to the early-voting law the same day Georgia lawmakers passed an overhaul of its election law putting new restrictions on mail-in voting and giving food and water to people waiting on line to vote, among other changes.
“In 43 states across this country, we are seeing an onslaught, an attack on democracy,” Abrams said.
“And I am so excited to be looking up, looking at New Jersey, knowing that New Jersey is taking us in the right direction,” she said.
Under the new law, there will be nine days of early, in-person voting on machines before November general elections. Polls will be open from at least 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., except that they can close at 6 p.m. Sundays. There will be five to 10 early polling locations in each county, depending on its population.
The early voting period will be shorter before June primaries and May municipal elections. There will be five days of early voting before presidential primaries and three days of early voting before non-presidential primaries and May municipal elections. Those early voting periods begin in 2022.
“We recognize that not everyone can vote on a single Tuesday in November, and voters should not be penalized,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-Middlesex.
Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, has been trying to get early voting passed for a decade. The Legislature passed it twice when Gov. Chris Christie was in office but it was vetoed.
“There are few rights more important than a citizen’s ability to vote,” Gill said. “Our accountability over government, opportunities to better our lives and the chance to elect our representatives are all dependent upon our ability to access the ballot.”
Ryan Haygood, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said Tuesday was a “big day for democracy,” in particular because there will be two full weekends of in-person, early voting before each November election.
“For the first time in New Jersey, Black voters in the Garden State will be able to participate in ‘souls to the polls,’ a long-honored tradition in Black communities where people first attend church services on Sunday, and then they take their souls to the polls to vote,” Haygood said.
Secretary of State Tahesha Way, whose office oversees election administration, said the new law builds on earlier efforts to expand voting access, such as the expanded use of vote-by-mail, that contributed to record turnout of 4.6 million ballots cast in the 2020 general election.
“In-person early voting will only strengthen our democracy further by providing voters with even more viable options,” Way said. “Hopefully we’ll see record turnout again this November.”
Way said “it won’t be easy” to implement early voting for the first time. County clerks and election officials have expressed concern, in part because of problems with the statewide voter registration system. Counties will need to buy electronic poll books in order to handle the voter traffic.
Murphy said his administration is sympathetic to the concerns and will approach the election working constructively with counties.
“We know this is not an easy transition,” Murphy said. “We have complete confidence … that we both have enough time and enough money to implement this, this year for the November election.”