Bill would require election officials to post uncounted ballot totals
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said the bill keeps voting secure and “ensures people aren’t left out of elections.” (Courtesy of New Jersey Governor’s Office)
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin wants election officials to let the public know how many ballots they’ve yet to count.
A bill introduced by the Middlesex County Democrat Thursday would require county election boards to coordinate with county clerks to post online the number of ballots received, along with the number they’ve counted and the number they’ve yet to tally.
“The way New Jersey votes has changed for the better with our pro-democracy mail-in and early voting expansions, and how we report our elections needs to evolve in complement to that,” Coughlin said. “Election results should be easily accessible, easy to understand, and the same throughout the state so that citizens have trust in the security of their vote.”
Vote tallies have been slow in some recent elections, and a lack of clarity over the number of uncounted ballots has frustrated some elected officials and political operatives.
During last year’s gubernatorial election, Bergen County’s vote-by-mail results were posted online on election night but secreted away in a corner of the county’s website. Several national vote trackers missed those results and showed Gov. Phil Murphy trailing Jack Ciattarelli by about 15,000 votes when he was actually leading by close to 20,000.
The speaker’s bill would require the number of uncounted ballots to go up when polls close and be updated in real time as counts continue. The figures would be split by ballot type, meaning uncounted mail-in ballots would be shown separately from uncounted provisional, early, and machine votes.
It would also require boards to send those numbers to the New Jersey secretary of state, who would have to post them in an easy-to-access online location.
A provision of the bill would bar voters from changing party affiliation when updating their voter registration with the Motor Vehicle Commission.
“I’ve heard numerous reports from elections officials that despite progress made on making it simple to update voter registration when you go to the MVC, we have a few glitches,” Coughlin said. “One of those involves people having their party registration changed without their knowledge. Those people are sometimes then disenfranchised during primaries.”
That glitch in 2020 led to a surge in registration for minor parties like the Libertarian Party, Socialist Party, and others, including some that had been defunct for more than a decade.
The bill would also move up the deadline for election officials to begin sending mail-in ballots to voters from 45 to 38 days before an election and allow county election boards to set up a schedule to collect mail-in ballots from drop boxes.
Election boards would be required to open at least one mail-in ballot drop box for local and school elections, or at least one in each municipality if a school district includes more than one town.
“My proposal keeps what’s working — secure, easily accessible voter registration — and ensures people aren’t left out of elections,” Coughlin said.
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