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  • NJ A2002
  • Establishes "The Democracy Act" to modify various voter registration and voting procedures.
Introduced
(1/27/2016)
In Committee
(1/27/2016)
Crossed OverPassedSignedDead/Failed/Vetoed
2016-2017 Regular Session
This bill establishes "The Democracy Act" to revise various voter registration and voting procedures. Specifically, the bill establishes early voting, online voter registration, automatic voter registration, and allows for the pre-registration of 17-year-olds. The bill expands various language accessibility provisions in current law by lowering the population threshold that triggers requirements for the publication of certain election notices and materials in languages other than English. The bill also makes various changes to current procedures for voting by mail, military and overseas voting under the Overseas Residents Absentee Voting Law, and filling vacancies in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Finally, the bill establishes an Office of Accessible Elections in the Division of Elections in the Department of State; codifies portions of a 1982 federal consent decree that prohibits certain actions by persons and political parties concerning the implementation of deceptive voting practices during elections, and extends its application to all persons and political parties; lowers the standard for challenging election voter fraud in court; and requires the periodic reporting on incidents of voter fraud during the conduct of an election. Early Voting The bill establishes an in-person early voting procedure (sections 2, 3, 5 through 8, 10 through 16, 55, and 61), to allow voters to cast their votes at any specially designated polling places in their respective county of residence, starting on the 15th day before the general election, and ending at 3 PM on the calendar day before the election. A municipality holding municipal elections on the second Tuesday in May, by an ordinance adopted by its governing body, may also conduct in-person early voting for those municipal elections. Under the bill, a registered voter would be permitted to vote in-person at a designated polling place before the day of a general election using a paper ballot. The ballot used to conduct in-person early voting will be labeled "Early Voting / Vote By Mail Ballot," and will also be used to conduct the vote by mail process for the general election provided for in "The Vote By Mail Law." However, a person who missed the voter registration deadline would be permitted to register to vote, and to vote, on an early voting day using a provisional ballot as provided for in the bill. Designated polling places must be open for early voting on Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 8 PM, and on Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM. A duly-registered voter will be permitted to vote after signing an early voting voter certificate, and after the voter's eligibility to vote is ascertained in substantially the same manner as done on election day. At least once each day during the early voting period, and prior to the start of the regularly scheduled election, each county board must make such changes as may be necessary to the voter's record in the Statewide voter registration system and the signature copy register used at each polling place to indicate that a voter has voted in that election using the early voting procedure. A voter who participates in early voting would not be permitted to vote by mail-in ballot or in person on election day. The bill provides that each county board of elections is to designate three early voting locations in each county, except that the county board must designate a total of five public locations for early voting if the number of registered voters in the county is at least 150,000 but less than 300,000, and must designate a total of seven public locations for early voting if the number of registered voters in the county is 300,000 or more. Under the bill, the number of registered voters in each county must be determined ahead of the selection of early voting sites pursuant to a uniform standard to be developed by the Secretary of State. Whenever possible, early voting sites must be geographically located so as to ensure both access in the part of the county that features the greatest concentration of population, according to the most recent federal decennial census of the United States, and access in various geographic areas of the county. No public school building may serve as an early voting location. Once early voting locations are designated in each county, county boards of election must, as provided by the Secretary of State, evaluate and, if deemed necessary, revise these locations in order to accommodate significant changes in the number of registered voters within each county, reflect the population distribution and density within each county, or enhance convenience when an early voting site has proven to be inconvenient for the voters, or because of similar circumstances. The Secretary of State must develop the criteria to be used by county boards of election to revise the location of early voting sites and must prescribe how often such revision must take place. The election officers responsible for conducting early voting would be the same as those responsible for conducting a general election. The number of such officers and their hours of service would be as determined by each county board of elections. The compensation for such officers would be as provided for by current law for poll workers serving at a school election. The bill provides that each county board will be responsible for forming and executing a written plan for the security of the ballots used during the early voting period, including voted ballots and election materials, based on guidelines established by the Secretary of State and submitted thereto no later than December 15 of each year. The written security plan is to ensure, to the greatest extent possible, the integrity of the voting process and the security of ballots used during the early voting period. The security plan must specify a chain of custody of ballots and voted ballots, which must include the transfer of voted ballots to each county board of elections at the end of each early voting day for safekeeping until canvassing on election day. For the elections that early voting is available, the procedures concerning the conduct of voters at the polling place and the appointment of challengers, as well as the prohibition on electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place, will be as provided for in current law. The bill also provides that, in addition to any publications required under Title 19 of the Revised Statutes, the Secretary of State and county boards of elections must publish on the Department of State's website and the respective county's website information concerning the early voting procedure. The early voting information must include, but may not be limited to, a notice to the public concerning their eligibility to participate in early voting, the duration of the early voting period, and the locations and hours of operation of specially designated polling places for early voting in each county. The bill appropriates as State aid to each county governing body and to each municipal governing body that approves conducting early voting such sums as the State Treasurer and the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting in the Department of the Treasury deem necessary to effectuate early voting. Online Voter Registration The bill requires the Secretary of State to establish a secure Internet website to allow eligible voters to register to vote using an online voter registration form (sections 23, 25 through 28). The bill also authorizes the use of digitized signatures from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission's database in connection with online voter registration forms. Under the bill, the Secretary of State must employ security measures to ensure the accuracy and integrity of voter registration forms submitted electronically. The secretary must require an applicant who submits an online voter registration form to submit the number from his or her New Jersey driver's license or non-driver identification card issued by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; his or her date of birth; and the last four digits of his or her social security number. Upon submission of the online voter registration form, the electronic voter registration system must immediately verify that the applicant has a New Jersey driver's license or non-driver identification card; that the number for that driver's license or non-driver identification card provided by the applicant matches the number for that person's driver's license or non-driver identification card that is on file with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; and that the date of birth provided by the applicant matches the date of birth for that person that is on file with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The system must also automatically acknowledge that the online voter registration form has been submitted successfully, and provide instructions on how the person completing the voter registration form may follow-up on the status of the submission either online or by contacting the appropriate county commissioner of registration. Under the bill, an applicant completing the online voter registration form must affirmatively attest to the truth of the information provided therein, and affirmatively assent to the use of his or her signature from his or her driver's license or non-driver identification card. For each online voter registration form, the secretary must obtain an electronic copy of the applicant's signature from his or her driver's license or non-driver identification card directly from the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. The secretary would promulgate deadlines for when an online voter registration form submitted by an applicant would be effective ahead of an election to be held in the election district of the applicant submitting the form. The bill also specifies a manner for completing the form if an applicant cannot electronically submit the identification information required. The online voter registration Internet site would be available in both English and in any other language primarily spoken by at least one half of one percent of New Jersey's population, and must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. The information on the online voter registration forms would be electronically transferred by county commissioners of registration into the Statewide voter registration system already established by law. Under the bill, online voter registration must be implemented by July 1, 2016. Automatic Voter Registration The bill requires the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC) to automatically transmit applicant information to the Secretary of State for automatic voter registration purposes (sections 23, 31 through 33). The bill also permits an applicant to decline to finalize a voter registration form within 21 days of receiving a notice of voter registration from the county commissioner of registration. Under current law, a person may register to vote at various locations, including designated public agencies, voter registration agencies, and when applying for a driver's license. Completed voter registration forms are submitted from these entities to the Secretary of State or the appropriate county commissioner of registration for processing. This bill would require the Chief Administrator of the NJMVC to transmit to the Secretary of State electronic records containing the legal name, age, residence, citizenship, and digitized signature of each applicant for a motor vehicle driver's license or non-driver identification card who meets the criteria specified by the Secretary of State that would qualify that applicant as a legal voter, for automatic voter registration purposes. Under the bill, upon receiving the applicant's electronic record and digitized signature, the Secretary of State would transmit the information to the county commissioner of registration of the county in which the applicant resides. The county commissioner of registration would notify each applicant, by mail, of the automatic voter registration, and would inform each applicant of the process to decline being registered to vote or, if not declining, of the option to select a political party affiliation. If an applicant does not decline the voter registration within 21 calendar days after the county commissioner of registration issues the notification, the applicant's electronic record and digitized signature would constitute a complete voter registration form. The applicant would be registered to vote if the county commissioner of registration determines that the applicant is eligible to register to vote pursuant to Article II, Section I, paragraph 3 of the New Jersey Constitution and Title 19 of the Revised Statutes, and is not disqualified. A county commissioner of registration would be required to delete the electronic record and digitized signature of a person who declines to be registered to vote. The bill also requires the Chief Administrator to transmit to the Secretary of State the electronic record and digitized signature of an applicant who is updating the legal name or address information on an existing motor vehicle driver's license or non-driver identification card, who meets the criteria specified by the Secretary of State that would qualify that applicant as a legal voter, for automatic voter registration purposes and for updating an existing voter registration record. Under the bill, the Secretary of State must develop an informational pamphlet to be provided to each applicant for a motor vehicle driver's license or non-driver identification card describing the process for automatic voter registration. The secretary, in consultation with the Chief Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission and the Automatic Voter Registration Task Force established under the bill, are directed to promulgate the rules and regulations necessary to implement the bill. The automatic voter registration process would be implemented by the secretary and the chief administrator by January 1, 2017. Theses provisions are modeled after an automatic voter registration law recently enacted in Oregon. Pre-registration of 17-year-olds The bill allows a 17-year-old to file a voter registration form (section 22). Under current law, a person who at the time he or she applies to register to vote resides in the district in which he or she expects to vote, and who will be 18 years old or more at the next ensuing election, is permitted to register to vote, provided the person: (1) is a citizen of the United States; (2) continues to reside in the district until the next election; and (3) will, at the time of the election, have fulfilled all the requirements as to length of residence to qualify him or her as a legal voter. This section of the bill clarifies that a person who is 17 years of age will be able to register to vote, and may vote at the next election occurring on or after the person's 18th birthday. Language Accessibility The bill expands various language accessibility provisions in current law by lowering the population threshold that triggers requirements for the publication of certain election notices and materials in languages other than English (sections 1, 3 through 5, 8, 9, 17, 24, 29, and 30). Under current law, whenever at least 10% of the population in an election district or county, as the case may be, primarily speaks Spanish, certain election notices and materials are required to be printed and distributed in both the English and Spanish languages. This bill reduces that threshold to 5%, and applies it to primary speakers of any language other than English. Specifically, these bill provisions would apply to multilingual requirements applicable to polling place staffing, publication of voter information and voting procedure notices, sample ballots, official ballots, challenged voter affidavits and instructions, and voter complaint forms. Voting by Mail The bill changes various vote by mail procedures to facilitate voting by mail in future election, postal tracking of ballots, and postage paid return ballots (sections 24, 27, 34, 46 through 54, 57, and 60). Under current law, a registered voter can choose to vote by mail-in ballot in all future general elections, until the voter notifies the county clerk that the voter no longer wishes to do so, or unless the voter fails to vote in the fourth general election following the general election in which the voter last voted. Current law also gives the registered voter who applies for a mail-in ballot the option to receive a mail-in ballot for each election occurring in the remainder of that calendar year. The bill amends current law to provide that a registered voter can choose to vote by mail-in ballot in all future elections, or for future general elections only. The bill provides that, if a voter who requested a mail-in ballot for all future elections does not vote by such means in four consecutive elections following the election in which the voter last voted, the voter will receive a mail-in ballot for future general elections only, and the ability of the voter to receive a mail-in ballot for all other elections would be suspended until the voter submits a new application indicating that the voter wishes to vote by mail-in ballot in all future elections. The bill also provides that any voter who has requested a mail-in ballot but wishes to vote in person at the appropriate polling place would be permitted to do so using the same voting machine used by other qualified voters at that election after surrendering the ballot to a designated poll worker, instead of voting by provisional ballot as the law now provides. The bill also requires the State to pay postage for voted ballots returned by mail. Under current law, the mail is the primary means by which mail-in voting ballots, presidential election ballots, and ballots used in small municipalities that hold elections by mail, are returned to a county board of elections. Currently, these ballots require the voter to pay the postage to return the voted ballot, unless the county clerk has chosen to provide a postage prepaid return envelope as allowed by law. The bill amends current law to require the balloting materials used for mail-in voting ballots, presidential election ballots, and ballots used in small municipalities that hold elections by mail include a postage prepaid return envelope for the return of the voted ballot by mail to the county board of elections. The bill provides that the county or municipality will be reimbursed by the State for any additional costs incurred in providing postage for voted ballots that are returned by mail. Under the bill, the county or municipality must apply for reimbursement to the Secretary of State and receive approval of the application from the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting in the Department of the Treasury. The bill makes an appropriation, and provides for the annual appropriation from the General Fund to the Secretary of State such sums as the State Treasurer and the Director of the Division of Budget and Accounting in the Department of the Treasury determine are necessary for the State to reimburse counties and municipalities for any additional costs incurred in providing postage for voted ballots returned by mail. Military and Overseas Voting The bill revises the Overseas Residents Absentee Voting Law to more closely resemble the federal overseas voting laws (sections 35 through 45). Based on principles suggested in the Uniform Military and Overseas Voters Act, which was approved and recommended for enactment by the Uniform Law Commission in 2010, this bill would incorporate into New Jersey law the few concepts that have not yet been addressed. The bill adds definitions for previously undefined statutory terms. The bill also expands the definition of "overseas voter" to expressly include legally recognized partners of military service personnel, voters born outside of the United States, and overseas voters with a residence in New Jersey. Additionally, the bill permits the use of the federal postcard application to apply for an overseas ballot or to register to vote in all elections held in the State. Under the bill, for a ballot to be distributed via electronic means, the completed application must be received by 3 p.m. on the day preceding the election. Under current law, the application must be received on or before the fourth day preceding the election. The bill permits an overseas voter to use the federal write-in absentee ballot to vote, to register to vote, and to request an overseas ballot for all elections. The bill also eliminates references to an outdated form of identification and adds other types of valid identification that may be used in an application for an overseas ballot. In addition to using a valid U.S. Passport, the bill permits an individual to use a valid U.S. Passport Card, a valid Certificate of Citizenship, or any other valid form of identification recognized under federal or State law. The bill expressly limits the permitted uses, or disclosures, of a voter's electronic address and requires that these limitations be described on the request to use an electronic address. In completing any document under the provisions of this bill, a voter's mistake or omission that is not substantive in nature would not invalidate the document. On write-in ballots, where the intention of the voter is discernable, the ballot would not be invalidated. Filling Congressional Vacancies The bill establishes a new procedure for filling vacancies in the United States Senate and House of Representatives (sections 18 through 20, 62). Under the bill, the Governor would be required to make a temporary appointment to fill a Senate vacancy within 30 days of the occurrence of the vacancy. If the person vacating the office is a member of a political party, the temporary appointee must be a member of the same political party. No person would qualify as a temporary appointee if that person has changed political party affiliation to match that of the person vacating the office within 180 days prior to the occurrence of the vacancy or within 30 days following the occurrence of the vacancy. The appointee would serve until a successor is elected and assumes office. If the vacancy occurs on or before the 70th day preceding the general election, the vacancy would be filled at that general election. If the vacancy occurs after the 70th day preceding the general election, the vacancy would be filled at the following year's general election. A vacancy would not be filled at the general election which immediately precedes the expiration of the term in which the vacancy occurs. If the vacancy in the Senate occurs after the 70th day preceding a general election but on or before the 70th day preceding the primary election, the candidates would be nominated at that primary election. If the vacancy occurs after the 70th day preceding the primary election, the candidates would be nominated by the State committee of the relevant political party, as provided by law, within 10 days of the issuance of the writ of election. Petitions of nomination of other candidates must be filed with the Secretary of State within the same 10-day time span. The bill also establishes the procedure for the filling of vacancies in the United States House of Representatives. In the case of a vacancy in the House, the Governor would not make a temporary appointment. Instead, the Governor would issue a writ of election to fill the vacancy, except that no writ of election would be issued if the vacancy occurs in an even-numbered year after the 70th day preceding the general election. If the vacancy occurs on or before the 70th day preceding the general election, the vacancy would be filled at that general election. If the vacancy occurs in an odd-numbered year and after the 70th day preceding the general election, the vacancy would be filled at the following year's general election. If the vacancy occurs after the 70th day preceding a general election but on or before the 70th day preceding the primary election, the candidates would be nominated at that primary election. If the vacancy occurs after the 70th day preceding the primary election, the candidates would be nominated by those members of the county committee or committees wherein the vacancy has occurred who represent those portions of the respective county or counties which are comprised in the district from which the candidate is to be elected, as provided by law, within 10 days of the issuance of the writ of election. Petitions of nomination of other candidates must be filed with the Secretary of State within the same 10-day time span. The following sections of law would be repealed: · R.S.19:3-26, which provides the procedure for filling a U.S. Senate vacancy and permits the Governor to make a temporary appointment to fill the vacancy and to call a special election to fill the vacancy; · R.S.19:3-27, which requires the Governor to issue a writ of election to fill a vacancy in the House of Representatives unless the term is set to expire within six months of the occurrence of the vacancy; · R.S.19:27-4, which requires the Governor to issue a writ of election to fill a vacancy in the Senate or House of Representatives unless the term is set to expire within six months of the occurrence of the vacancy; · R.S.19:27-6, which provides the timeframe and procedure for the Governor to issue a writ of election to fill a congressional vacancy and provides the Governor discretion to call a special election; and · Section 1 of P.L.1945, c.206 (C.19:27-10.1), which provides the procedure for filling a vacancy in the House of Representatives between the specified dates preceding the primary and general elections if more than one year remains on the unexpired term. The bill also amends a section of law to remove a reference to special elections to the United States Senate or House of Representatives. Under the bill, congressional vacancies would only be filled on a general election day or, in the case of Senate vacancies, temporarily by appointment by the Governor. Office of Accessible Elections The bill establishes an Office of Accessible Elections in the Division of Elections in the Department of State (section 56). The duty of the office would be to monitor accessibility problems arising in the course of election administration; receive complaints from voters; inform the Secretary of State on best practices in making the various election processes, technologies, materials, and procedures accessible to persons with disabilities; and disseminate that information among all election jurisdictions in this State. When appropriate, the office would work closely with the Voting Accessibility Advisory Committee in each county, established under N.J.S.A.19:8-3.7, and also would work with the Secretary of State to ensure that all Internet sites administered by the Division of Elections are available to the public in both English and Spanish languages and are accessible to persons with disabilities within six months following the effective date of the bill. Deceptive Voting Practices The bill contains provisions that would apply to both major political parties, as well as to any person, based upon a 1982 federal court consent decree that settled assertions that the Republican National Committee had attempted to suppress minority voter turnout in New Jersey (section 58). It would ban deceptive voting practices by a political party or any person that knowingly provides false information to any other person or political party regarding the time, place, or manner of conducting elections or voter qualifications, or intimidation, threats, or coercion to prevent the casting of a free and secret ballot. In addition, the bill forbids any political party or person from: directing, authorizing, or encouraging any person to deface or remove any lawfully placed printed or electronic campaign material or signs of any other political party or person; implementing a deceptive voting practice in any election district in which a decision to conduct such activities would be based on the racial or ethnic composition of the district; seeking to have any private individual deputized as a member law enforcement in connection with a deceptive voting practice; or authorizing, directing, or encouraging any individual to dress or conduct himself or herself in a manner that falsely implies that the individual is a member of law enforcement. Voter Fraud Court Challenges and Incident Reports The bill changes the standard for challenging election voter fraud in court, and requires periodic reporting of incidents of voter fraud during the conduct of an election (sections 21 and 59). Under current law, the nomination or election of any person to any public office or party position, or the approval or disapproval of any public proposition, may be contested by the voters of this State or of any of its political subdivisions affected thereby upon various grounds. These grounds include when illegal votes have been received, or legal votes rejected at the polls sufficient to change the result. The bill provides that a petition must not be dismissed before trial unless it appears to the court that it does not plausibly allege facts that, if believed by the fact finder, could result in a judgment in petitioners' favor. In any petition brought under that statute, the burden of proof and persuasion would be on the petitioner to show by a preponderance of the evidence that one or more of the grounds enumerated in this section have been established. The bill also requires each county board of elections, immediately following the certification of the election results of each election, to document and account for any allegation of voter fraud that arose during the election and how each allegation was addressed. Under the bill, each county board must prepare a report with that information which must be submitted to the Secretary of State within 30 days following the certification of the election results. The Secretary of State must annually prepare a report containing the information submitted to it by each county board of elections, detailing all of the allegations of voter fraud that arose during the election and how they were addressed in each county. The report would be prepared by the Secretary of State within 180 days following the election, and must be made available to the public on the website of the New Jersey Division of Elections. Every five years the secretary must prepare a report to be submitted to the Governor and to the Legislature, containing recommendations on how the election laws should be amended or supplemented to prevent voter fraud.
Judiciary
Introduced, Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee  (on 1/27/2016)
 
 

Date Chamber Action Description
1/27/2016 A Introduced, Referred to Assembly Judiciary Committee
Date Motion Yea Nay Other
None specified