The controversial overhaul of New Jersey’s vote-by-mail system is now back on track after it was thrown out last year by a little-known yet powerful state board.
Gov. Phil Murphysigned a bill into law Tuesday that fully funds — and thus resurrects — plans he approved in recent years to encourage more Garden State residents to vote by mail.
Murphy approved a pair of laws in 2018and 2019to ensure that New Jerseyans who voted by mail in 2016 and beyond automatically are sent mail-in ballots for all subsequent elections, unless they request to opt out.
But the New Jersey Council on Local Mandates invalidated the plans in November after it ruled the overhaul amounted to an unfunded mandate on the state’s 21 counties because it didn’t provide enough money to clerks who had to send out the influx of new ballots.
Clerks issued more than 437,000 mail-in ballots last year than they had before, costing them $2.8 million, according to the New Jersey Association of Counties.
The state Senate passed it 36-4 and the Assembly 55-19.
In the past, New Jersey voters who wanted to vote by mail in any election had to apply for a ballot by the deadline.
Murphy and sponsors said the overhaul makes it easier for more people to vote.
“We should be doing all that we can to encourage citizens to exercise their right to vote,” said State Sen. Shirly Turner (D-Mercer). “This will reinstate the reforms we made to the vote-by-mail system and ensure the progress we made to improve voting accessibility is not lost. By providing funding, this will ensure counties do not have to raise property taxes to cover the costs associated with these reforms.”
Republicans opposed the overhaul, saying it was a ploy for Democrats to secure more support and that it could open the door to voter fraud.
NJ Advance Media staff writer Matt Arcocontributed to this report.
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