NJ lawmaker wants to keep cops from intimidating voters at polls
A New Jersey lawmaker is pushing a plan to ward off possible voter intimidation and suppression tactics in the upcoming November election.
Legislation (A-4655) sponsored by Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D- Mercer, would prohibit a law enforcement agency from assigning officers to any polling place or district board of elections in order to maintain order or peace and quiet for extended periods of time during hours of registry and election.
“We just want to make sure that it’s a welcoming environment, making sure that everybody has a clear path without any type of intimidation,” she said.
Last month President Trump announced he was going to deploy sheriffs and other law enforcement officers to polling sites around the country to guard against voter fraud, although it’s unclear if he has the legal authority to do that.
Reynolds-Jackson said this comes as a national dialogue about the role of policing continues, so we need to be proactive and make sure all voters feel comfortable if they choose to go to vote in person instead of mailing in their ballot.
“It’s important that we send clear message that this is supposed to be an open and free process without any barriers,” she said.
The measure would also prohibit any county election board from requesting law enforcement officers be stationed at a polling place for an extended period of time.
Additionally she said the bill specifies law enforcement officers may not assist members of the board of elections in carrying a ballot box or boxes to the municipal clerk’s office after the ballots are counted.
“Let’s stop this nonsense we’ve seen that has happened in other states,” she said. “This is a more proactive way to say here in New Jersey we’re not going to do this.”
Henal Patel, director of democracy and justice at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said the legislation makes sense because in the normal course of an election, law enforcement is not involved in voting.
“We are in a current moment where people might feel wary of going to a law enforcement agency or near one in order to cast a vote or having police near their polling location,” she said.
Reynolds-Jackson said the proposed legislation does not prohibit the presence of law enforcement if there is an actual emergency or a disturbance. But if specifies officers may only remain at the location as long as necessary to properly deal with the issue at hand.
The legislation is awaiting referral to a committee.
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