New Jersey voters could cast their ballots starting 15 days before an election under legislation introduced today by Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex. The bill creates an early voting system, which some legislators and election experts say could have reduced the confusion caused when superstorm Sandy hit a week before this year’s election. Polling places would be open for eight hours a day, seven days a week starting 15 days before Election Day. Early voting would end two days before the election. People who want to vote early would go to a polling place and cast their ballots just like they would on Election Day itself. The legislation would apply to primary and general elections.
“Our goal must be to ensure that all voters have an opportunity to have their voices heard,” Gill said in a statement. “Early voting will expand voter access and ensure that in the event of an emergency – such as a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy – or an unforeseen scheduling conflict, residents are not faced with the prospect of not being able to vote.”
After superstorm Sandy left polling places powerless or flooded and forced many voters from their homes, the state was left to create a backup plan on the fly just days before Election Day. The plan allowed voters who had been displaced by the storm to vote by email or fax – a system that was previously used only for military voters and residents living overseas.
Some people could vote by provisional ballot at any polling place in the state, and everyone was encouraged to vote before Election Day by filling out a mail-in ballot at their county clerk’s office.
The expanded email voting was announced on just three days before the election, and the changes created widespread confusion.
The final vote tallies are still not available; they are expected to be completed by Wednesday.
Thirty-two states and Washington, D.C., already have early voting. Election experts say the system allows more people to vote and reduces the ramifications of bad weather or other problems on Election Day.