In Brief

Singleton to introduce second bill that would OK early vote counting

By: - December 8, 2021 2:41 pm

Sen. Troy Singleton (Courtesy of New Jersey Senate Democrats)

A proposal from a Democratic lawmaker would allow election officials to tally mail-in ballots and early in-person votes before polls close on Election Day.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington), would allow county election boards to begin canvassing vote-by-mail ballots starting 10 days before Election Day and count early in-person votes starting at 6 p.m. the day before Election Day.

Earlier this week, Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips (R-Bergen) introduced a similar bill that would allow officials to tally mail-in votes as they are received.

The proposals come after a second year of slow counts caused consternation among candidates, political operatives, and the media and spawned unfounded claims about election fraud among some Republican voters, though no Republican candidates for state office echoed those claims.

Under existing law, election officials cannot open the inner envelopes of mail-in ballots or count them until Election Day, and early in-person votes cannot be counted until after polls close at 8 that night.

The state allowed early counting 10 days before Election Day in 2020 to account for voluminous returns in races held almost entirely using mail-in ballots, but that provision was temporary and has since lapsed.

DePhillips’ legislation does not provide for the early counting of in-person votes cast before Election Day.

Both bills would require tallies be kept under wraps until after polls close, but Singleton’s measure would make unauthorized early disclosure of results a crime punishable by up to five years behind bars.

DePhillips’ bill does not lay out specific penalties for unauthorized disclosure, though he said such provisions could make it into the final bill if election officials believe they are needed.

Republicans and progressives opposed the temporary measure allowing early counting last year, but that opposition appears to have ebbed with the GOP after several of their legislative candidates gained election night leads this year that disappeared after overwhelmingly Democratic mail-in ballots were added to tallies.

Progressives, concerned about political gamesmanship from election officials with ties to county party organizations, want additional safeguards against leaked results, including new counting machines that can count ballots without releasing tallies.


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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.