Contributed by Deb Kline.
States currently have total control over how and when elections are held. While many eyes are on the proposal for national voting changes due to the coronavirus before the US Congress, it must be clear that states need to take or expand action to ensure a fair and robust election. Further, while Vote by Mail is the main focus, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, many states will be hard pressed to make sure enough ballots are ready, shipped and returned in time. Here’s the latest from NJ and PA, plus your call to action at the state level:
- Primaries in both states have been moved from their original dates due to the coronavirus. In New Jersey, the primary has been moved to July 7; and Pennsylvania is still on the calendar for June 2.
- Vote by Mail:
- NJ has allowed ‘no excuse needed’ vote by mail for some time. To receive a ballot by mail, the application must be received by the County Clerk 7 days prior to the election. A voter may also apply in person to the County Clerk until 3:00 p.m. the day before the election.
- Pennsylvania loosened what was previously among the most restrictive requirements for absentee or vote by mail ballots. While it may seem as if the two are synonymous, the state does differentiate. Registered voters can apply for a mail-in ballot online, by mail or in person at the county election office. Applications for a mail-in ballot must be received one week in advance of the election and turned in by the date of the election. For the June 2 primary, applications for a mail-in ballot must be received by the county election office by 5 pm May 26. For more information on PA absentee and mail-in voting, go here
- Early voting: NJ allows in-person early voting 45 days prior to election day ending the day before the election at the County Clerk’s office. In Pennsylvania, however, there is no in-person early voting. Mail-in ballots go out 50 days in advance of the election.
It must be noted that the expected increase in vote by mail ballots will undoubtedly put a burden on local officials. In an Op-Ed in NJ Spotlight, David Goodman, team leader of the New Jersey chapter of Represent.Us – a national grassroots anti-corruption movement advocating for election and campaign finance reform, calls for strengthening the paper ballot system by making money available for reliable optical scanning machines and a state-wide standard for mail-in voting across counties. In NJ, two bills need your support:
- A- 3591, co-sponsored by Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker and Dan Benson, creates statewide standards for counties to follow. The bill provides protections for the voter and methods to ensure that questionable ballots are retained and adequately inspected. More than that, it would make information available to increase public awareness of voting by mail.
- The second bill (A-2175) sponsored by Assembly members Raj Mukherji, Annette Chaparro, and James Kennedy, removes barriers to voting. Most significantly, the bill requires the secretary of state to establish a website for online voter registration.
CALL TO ACTION
- Check your voter registration status whether or not you’ve voted recently. Use this handy tool for any person in any state from Vote.org
- If you are not registered, go to the following sites to get an application or to register online. You can also register by mail or in-person (note the deadlines prior to the election):
- Apply for mail-in ballots if you’re so inclined.
- Call on your state officials to ensure localities have the budget, equipment and staff needed to enable safe, secure elections whether by mail or in person.
- NJ voters: call your state legislators to support A- 3591 and A-2175
- Pennsylvania voters: call your state legislators to establish in-person early voting.