Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Nancy Pinkin, James Kennedy and Troy Singleton to make sure voters are aware of any changes to polling locations was approved by an Assembly panel on Monday.
"It's important that we do everything we can to protect the integrity of the democratic process, and that includes making it crystal clear to voters where exactly they'll be able to vote," said Conaway (D-Burlington). "The current requirements can cause unnecessary confusion and put the rights of voters to cast their ballot at risk. We can do better by New Jersey voters and we should."
The measure (A-3332) would require that when the location of a polling place for an election district is changed to another location within 60 days before an election, the county board of elections of the county in which the affected voters reside is to send a notice of the change to the residence of each affected voter, if the change occurs 14 days or more before the election. If the change occurs less than 14 days before or on the day of an election, the notice of the change is to be sent by electronic means to each municipality in which an affected voter resides.
The sponsors noted that the measure is particularly important after Hurricane Sandy forced towns to move polling locations just a few weeks before the election, creating confusion amongst many voters.
"By clarifying notification requirements, we will ensure that voters stay informed during the process and have every opportunity to cast their ballot," said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). "This change will help ensure better participation in the democratic process by ending any confusion that can occur on Election Day when a voting site is moved."
The bill would require the board to post and display prominently on the county's internet site the change in the polling place location as soon as possible after the decision to make the change has been finalized. The county board would also be required to transmit to the county clerk and, time permitting, to a newspaper of general circulation, an electronic copy of any notice that the board issues by surface mail or electronic means. In addition, the county clerk would be permitted to take any other reasonable steps designed to inform voters of a polling place location change.
"The majority of people turn to online media outlets for news and updates, and our election laws should reflect that to help encourage voter participation," said Kennedy (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). "This simple change will minimize confusion and aid voters rather than disenfranchising them."
In addition, the bill would require the county board to arrange for signage to be posted outside the previous polling place to provide guidance to voters concerning the change in polling place location on the day of any election.
"The average person squeezes in voting while juggling work and family responsibilities on a busy weekday. If they show up at a polling location that doesn't exist they may not have time to track down the new location and just forego voting all together," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "This change will help make sure voters are in the right place on Election Day."
Finally, the bill would require each county to develop, based on guidelines issued by the Secretary of State, a contingency plan for notifying residents of the county when the location of a polling place is changed due to the declaration of an emergency in the municipality or county or the State as a whole or due to any other reason. Notification by mail would not be required if the location of a polling place is changed due to the declaration of an emergency. In such a circumstance, the board of elections would follow the procedures in the contingency plan developed pursuant to the bill.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee. It would take effect immediately upon enactment.