FILE - NJ voting, mail-in ballot 7-7-2020

A woman wearing gloves drops off a mail-in ballot July 7, 2020, at a drop box in Hackensack, New Jersey.

(The Center Square) – A battle continues over how New Jersey residents will vote and how those ballots will be counted with just two months to go before Nov. 3.

A clause in SB 2580, which is identical to the Assembly’s A-4775, allows elections officials to count mail-in ballots 10 days before the election. The bill passed the both houses and was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy with little fanfare.

But one Republican lawmaker says early counting could lead to some campaign staffers getting information before Election Day.

“If anyone thinks that won’t happen, they’re delusional,” said Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, in a statement. “Giving campaign operatives access to confidential vote counts before Election Day would be an unfair advantage that could be used to change the outcome of elections.”

Murphy defended the bill at his Wednesday news conference.

“The point here was to allow us, with as high degree of certainty as possible, to be able to certify all of our elections by Nov. 20,” Murphy said. "And that’s the rationale."

The bill also includes a clause that makes leaking that information a third-degree criminal offense.

“The penalties, just like insider trading, have been ratcheted up and are significant,” Murphy said. “You’re faced with a very significant penalty which includes very significant potential jail time.”

According to New Jersey code, anyone convicted of a third-degree crime could be sentenced to three to five years’ incarceration and fined up to $15,000.

The early county provision is one more reason for voters to be skeptical of the elections process, Bucco said.

“Instead of building trust in our election process, the new law simply provides one more way for corrupt campaigns to try to cheat the system,” Bucco said.

Republicans were staunchly opposed to Murphy’s order for an election conducted mostly by mail. Each county is required to have a polling place open for handicapped voters.

Sen. Declan O’Scanlon and Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso, both Republicans from Monmouth, say they plan to introduce legislation that would allow voters to cast their ballots in person if they bring their sealed mail-in ballot to a polling place. DiMaso called it “the next best thing to preserve some of our voting integrity.”

“When the administration places these concerning restrictions and obstacles in our way, it is our duty as legislators to not only fight against them, but to explore every other possible avenue available to help our residents,” DiMaso said.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee, and the New Jersey Republican State Committee are suing Murphy and Secretary of State Tanesha Way, saying the vote-by-mail balloting violates the 14th amendment.

The Campaign Legal Center and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice filed a motion this week on behalf of New Jersey’s NAACP-New Jersey and League of Women Voters saying to change the way the election is held at this point would only confuse voters.

“This lawsuit is an attempt by outsiders to sow discord, undermine voters’ confidence, and disrupt safe voter access for New Jerseyans,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

The lawsuit is pending in New Jersey’s United States District Court.