Gopal and Zwicker Introduce Legislation Strengthening Protections of Vote-by-Mail Ballots

OCEAN TOWNSHIP - Senator Vin Gopal and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker introduced new legislation this past Thursday that would expand vote-by-mail (VBM) education to New Jersey voters and poll workers, protect voters’ rights by preventing the rejection of VBM ballots due to faulty envelope design, and realize savings by removing VBM addresses that come back as undeliverable or that have not been used to vote by mail in at least two years.

Under the bill (S2547), if it is determined by the county board of elections that a mail-in ballot has missing or insufficient glue for either envelope due to poor envelope design or a manufacturing error and not due to tampering or improper handling, the mail-in ballot will not be rejected.

The bill would also direct the Secretary of State to prepare informational posters for use at all polling places that promote voting by mail, include with mail-in ballots information for the voter on how to check the status of the voter’s mail-in ballot, and provide educational materials to county board of elections employees on the standards for acceptance and rejection of mail-in ballots.

“Vote-by-mail is one of the best tools we have for enfranchising voters and helping New Jerseyans make their voices heard at the ballot box,” said Gopal (D-Long Branch). “Not all of us have the luxury of going to vote in-person on Election Day, and many voters have to prioritize earning a paycheck, caring for children, or recovering from an illness over a trip to the polls. That’s especially important this election, when a pandemic threatens to put many in-person voters at risk. By promoting vote-by-mail options and protecting the voices of voters whose ballots are damaged through no fault of their own, we can improve and expand our state’s democracy.”

“It’s critical that we balance the interest of voting by mail with a system that is both fair and efficient,” said Zwicker (D-Monmouth Junction). “Under this legislation, the particular goal is to ensure every person registered and able to vote has the information they need. It works to ensure the voice of our electorate continues to be heard, whether people choose to vote by mail or to head to the polls. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, getting VBM right and getting mailed-in ballots properly counted is vital.”

Under the bill, the clerk of each county can remove a voter from lists of registered voters receiving mail-in ballots if the following circumstances apply:

  1. the United States Postal Service returned mail of a ballot, sample ballot, or any other official county election mail sent directly to the named voter;
  2. the voter has not used a mail-in ballot for any election in a two-year period; or
  3. the United States Postal Service National Change of Address System indicates the voter’s recipient address has changed or is undeliverable.

Before removing a voter from the list, a county clerk must notify that voter in writing and indicate the reasons for removal, while also instructing the voter on the necessary steps to continue to vote by mail. If the voter does not respond to the notice within 30 days of mailing, the county clerk can remove that voter from the list of voters receiving mail-in ballots and send that voter a notice of removal along with an application to re-apply to vote by mail. This removal would not impact a voter’s registration status, nor would it prevent a voter from re-applying to vote by mail.

“As a state, we should always look to find areas where we can save money without causing harm to our residents,” Gopal said. “I believe that this measure will let us realize real savings on staff hours, postage, and materials, while also providing voters with an easy, accessible, and transparent way to make sure that they can vote by mail if they want to.”

Under current law, county boards of elections are required to retain voted mail-in ballots for a period of two years. This bill clarifies that ballots that are received 48 hours after the closing of the polls, along with their envelopes, are also required to be retained for two years.