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New Jersey expands access to the ballot box

Trenton. The Garden State becomes latest state to offer early in-person voting.

| 31 Mar 2021 | 09:19

New Jersey became the latest state this week to enact a law allowing early in-person voting, with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signing the legislation alongside Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, who has been credited with helping to break the GOP’s hold on her state.

Murphy cast the legislation as a contrast to what he said were “states across our nation (turning) back the clock to Jim Crow-era voter suppression laws.” New Jersey’s new law, he said, would expand access to the ballot box.

New Jersey already had early absentee voting, and most states offer some form of early voting, either in person or by mail.

For general elections, voters will be able to vote at certain designated polling places on the 10th day before a general election and ending on second day before the election.

For primaries in presidential years, voting can begin six days before the election and four days before nonpresidential primaries.

In both cases, voting would end two days before the election under the new law.

‘Big day for the Black vote’

The measure has been praised by civil rights organizations, including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Ryan Haygood, the president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said Tuesday was a “big day for the Black vote” in New Jersey. He said the legislation will allow for voters to participate in “souls to the polls,” a tradition in some places where people go from church services to cast their ballots.

New Jersey’s new law stands in contrast to the bill signed into law in Georgia that overhauls state elections there by adding new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how voting is run.

Abrams had a narrow defeat for governor in 2018 and has gotten credit for laying the organizational groundwork that helped Democrats capture the state’s two Senate seats and to win the state back from former President Donald Trump last fall.

Abrams said New Jersey was taking a step in the right direction and that early in-person voting helped enfranchise voters who don’t have work schedules `”based on an Agrarian economy.”

“In person early voting is one more vestige of country that believes in the democracy it espouses,” she said.

She joined Murphy during the remote ceremony, held virtually because of COVID-19.

The cost: As much as $50 million

Implementing the new law could cost as much as $50 million, according to legislative estimates. That’s because counties, which run elections in the state, will require electronic poll books. They’re needed to determine people haven’t voted more than once.

Concerns over costs were raised by county officials during hearings on the legislation this year, even though the legislation specifies that the state would carry responsibility for reimbursing local governments. Former GOP Gov. Chris Christie vetoed similar legislation, citing costs, in 2013.

Democrats, and a handful of Republicans, have embraced the law.

Only six states - Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina - do not offer any early in-person voting options, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

2021: Statewide elections

There’s a statewide election in New Jersey this year, with the governor at the top of the ticket. Also on the ballot are all 120 members of the state Assembly and Senate.

Democrats have a roughly million-voter advantage over Republicans in New Jersey and the state has proved to be a Democratic stronghold in presidential years.