Overseas voting bill advances with new amendments

Two Weinberg bills stall before Senate panel after Greenstein abstentions

By: - November 16, 2021 7:00 am

A polling site at city hall in Asbury Park, NJ on 11/2/21. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

A Senate panel advanced a measure Monday allowing New Jerseyans living overseas to cast ballots in a greater number of local and state races, while absent Democratic lawmakers and abstentions blocked the paths of two of the committee’s other measures.

The bill allowing overseas voters to cast ballots in state, federal, and some local elections passed the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism, and Historic Preservation Committee, with Republican Sens. Sam Thompson (R-Middlesex) and Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic) abstaining.

The measure, which has already been approved by the Assembly, was amended on Monday with new definitions that would ban overseas New Jerseyans who are uncertain about their return to the United States from casting ballots in local races, though they would still get to vote in state and federal elections. The amendments would also prevent those voters from casting ballots for county and local referenda.

Voters who certify they intend to return to the state would get the OK to vote in local elections.

Three people — New Jersey residents living in Singapore, Canada, and the Netherlands — testified in favor of the measure Monday but urged against restrictions based on a voter’s intent to return to the United States.

“If you are sent by your boss for a temporary work assignment in Virginia and you can vote in a local election, you should be able to do the same if you’re sent to that temporary work assignment in Canada,” Tricia Augustine-Hamilton told the committee. “If you have a second house in Florida to escape the cold and you can vote in a local election, why can’t you do the same thing if that second house is in Greece?”

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission estimated the state had about 27,000 residents living abroad who were eligible to vote in 2020. The vast majority of those residents, 24,305, were overseas citizens, while 2,654 were uniformed service members.

While Augustine-Hamilton accepted the amendments, saying she understands compromise is a necessary part of the legislative process, other speakers were less keen on the changes proposed Monday.

“For me as a volunteer actively promoting my democracy to other Americans, it is particularly hurtful to see my home state limit our ability to vote in state elections,” said Rafael Nemet-Nejat, who lives in Singapore. “Limiting our participation in the election process is a dangerous endeavor as it generates apathy toward voting and, in turn, democracy.”

Monday’s hearing wasn’t without its surprises.

Committee Chairman Jim Beach (D-Camden) was forced to hold a bill that would have expanded the Open Public Meetings Act to currently uncovered public bodies — including, among others, independent authorities and quasi-governmental agencies like the New Jersey Association of Counties — and other pro-transparency reforms after an abstention delivered in absentia by Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) would have meant a tied vote.

Greenstein was in for Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Burlington), who lost re-election on Nov. 2 and did not attend Monday’s committee meeting.

A separate bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), failed after Greenstein abstained.

That measure would have made changes to the Open Public Records Act requiring records custodians justify redactions, codifying various pieces of OPRA case law, and putting deadlines on decisions from the Government Records Council, a largely toothless state body the adjudicates OPRA disputes.

It’s rare that a bill fails to clear a committee once brought up for a vote.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.