Legislation ensuring every resident in the state the right to vote 15 days before certain elections awaits Governor Christie’s signature, and municipal officials in northwest Bergen County are holding their collective breath. “This is going to cause pure havoc,” said Waldwick Borough Clerk Paula Jaegge, who was initially concerned that every municipality would be required to provide polling locations. “We would have to reschedule meetings and juggle a lot of things around to make this work for that long a time period.” An amendment to the bill, which cleared its last legislative hurdle last week, instead would require seven polling locations in Bergen, a figure based on its population. The county Board of Elections would be responsible for determining where the polling locations would be. Even so, many are questioning the need for it at all. “We already have it,” said state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Cresskill, who represents District 39, which includes Ramsey, Mahwah and Oakland. “We have early voting through vote by mail. This just creates a whole series of expenses, more government layers.”
Wyckoff Township Clerk Joyce Santimauro agrees. “It is unnecessary, as we currently have a process — vote by mail — which permits voters every opportunity to vote and participate in the democratic process,” she argues.
If the bill is signed by the governor, the law would take effect July 1. It would enable residents to vote 15 days before primaries in June and in the November general election by paper ballot at regional locations, which would exclude schools. It would require polling places to be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and to 6 p.m. Sunday during the additional voting period.
In interviews in recent weeks, municipal officials representing northwest Bergen communities say they have not heard any complaints from constituents about voting inconveniences, and expressed surprise that the bill had even made it out of committee. With tight budgets and public meeting space in demand, they are concerned about the associated costs, including those of transporting election materials to and from polling places every day, rescheduling meetings to accommodate the use of public buildings and overtime for municipal employees who may be forced to work extended hours and on weekends.