Bipartisan backing for bills requiring state to pay for mail ballot postage
One advocate said making voters pay for stamps amounts to a ‘poll tax’
Some counties already pay for mail-in ballot stamps, but bills advanced Thursday would make that a requirement in all 21 counties. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)
Assembly lawmakers unanimously approved two bills Thursday that would shift the cost of returning mail-in ballots to state government, reducing costs for residents and counties in what may be New Jersey’s latest expansion of mail voting.
The Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Thursday approved bills that would require the state to pay for postage on applications to receive mail-in ballots and on the ballots themselves.
“Paying for the postage — why would we not do that? To me, it’s all common sense,” said Assemblyman Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), the chamber’s majority leader and prime sponsor of the bill requiring the state to pay postage on vote-by-mail applications.
Under the bills, the state would directly pay postage for mail ballot applications, while counties would initially pay for postage on actual ballots and later be reimbursed by the state.
Under New Jersey’s current system, there is little uniformity in who bears the cost of mailing ballots across counties. While some counties — Camden, Monmouth, and Essex, among others — already pay for mail-in ballots postage, most counties do not.
The bill’s supporters said requiring voters to pay postage to return mail ballots could pose a barrier for some New Jerseyans.
“The extra step of getting a postage stamp can be an obstacle, especially to those who work during post office hours,” said Micauri Vargas, associate counsel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s democracy and justice program. “Viewed through such a lens, postage required of voters may look quite a bit more like a poll tax.”
Others noted that voters who cast their ballot in person at a polling place on Election Day or through a mail-in ballot dropbox do not face postage costs.
“People should not be required to pay in order to vote,” said Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Middlesex), prime sponsor of the bill requiring counties to provide postage on mail-in ballots.
New Jersey paid postage for ballots during elections in 2020, which were run almost entirely using mail-in ballots to stem the spread of COVID-19, but counties returned to their normal practices afterward.
It’s unclear when the bills might reach the Assembly floor or move through committees in the upper chamber. Both bills have been referred to the Senate’s state government committee, but the panel has no meetings scheduled this month.
Greenwald said he aims to have the legislation approved before the new fiscal year begins in July.
“We’re not looking to do this 18 months from now,” he said. “I think we want to move quickly. I think we’d like to put it in place this budget cycle so that people can plan for it, and it could be in place for the elections coming up.”
All 120 legislative seats are up for grabs in November.
The bills would create new costs for state government as booming post-pandemic revenue is receding to normal levels and the state braces for the expiration of a surcharge to its corporate business tax that Gov. Phil Murphy has said should not be renewed.
It’s unclear how much vote-by-mail postage would cost New Jersey annually. Though the number is likely to change year-to-year with trends in voter turnout and postage prices, Greenwald said he expects it to be minuscule when compared to the state’s $50.6 billion budget.
“This is not something that would ever be a backbreaker or cost other programs,” he said.
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