(The Center Square) – New Jersey Senate Republicans and Democrats said they supported in-person voting before a vote on addressing vote-by-mail.
The bills passed the Senate and the Assembly on party lines after debate in both legislative bodies.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced earlier this month that the Nov. 3 general election will be held mostly by mail, with some polling places open on Election Day to help disabled residents.
Democratic Sen. Ronald Rice said he thought the governor was wrong.
“There are those of us from the civil rights community, those of who have spent all of our lives arguing the right to vote for everybody, inclusion,” Rice said. “If you live in urban cities and watch liquor stores, from day one of COVID-19 form lines at 12 o’clock around the corner buying alcohol, we can certainly can social distance at the polling place.”
Sen. Paul Sarlo, also a Democrat said he had introduced legislation that proposed allowing voters to hand in ballots to a municipal or election clerk, but he received “so much pushback” he abandoned the idea.
“There is no perfect solution here on the situation,” Sarlo said. “I think we all agree some form of voting in person would be ideal.”
Republican Sen. Steven Oroho said he was hearing a lot support for in-person voting.
“I would certainly hope that this body would pressure this governor to say we need to have in-person voting,” Oroho said.
The discussion was just as intense before the Assembly vote, with Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi questioning why it was OK for people to play games in casinos with hundreds of people, but they can’t go to the polling place to vote.
“New Jersey’s logic during the COVID era has become very difficult to follow,” Schepisi said. “It’s a political issue being masked as a safety issue. It’s politics at its absolute worst. It’s exactly why the people of this state do not trust us, do not respect us and we are actively promoting the disenfranchisement of our voters.”
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, one of the bill’s sponsors, said voting-by-mail is safe, secure and “fraud is almost nonexistent.”
“What we’re doing here today is ensuring that the people of New Jersey in the middle of a pandemic can exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Zwicker said.
Republican Assemblyman Hal Wirth challenged Zwicker’s claims, asking him look him and the eye and “tell me … that you truly believe that we cannot have people safely vote by machine?”
“Can I tell you with 100 percent certainty that it is safe or unsafe?” Zwicker responded. “No, I cannot. What I can tell you is that by voting by mail, I’m reducing the possibility of transmission of COVID-19.”
The bills passed Thursday require the county election offices to notify voters within 24 hours if their ballot is rejected and give them 48 hours to cast another ballot.
The bill also requires county clerks' offices to produce educational materials about voting-by-mail that includes locations of drop boxes.
The legislative bodies also agreed on a bill that will place dropboxes in communities 45 days before the election. The boxes will be placed in the buildings where the county clerk is located, municipal government buildings in communities with populations of more than 5,000, and community college and university campuses.