Imagine for a moment someone with long, unpredictable work hours that make it hard for them to know what their schedule will look like day-to-day. When it comes to voting, they’re never sure if they’ll have time to visit their polling site and wait in line to cast a vote on election day. To guarantee their voice is heard, regardless of availability on election day, they decide to complete a mail-in ballot and drop it off in a box ahead of time.
Now picture that same busy resident trying to find an official ballot box near them and realizing the closest one is miles away. So they take time out of their schedule to get on a bus and travel across the city to the nearest location – only to find the residents of this area have two boxes mere blocks away from each other.
While well-intentioned and even helpful in some circumstances, statutory requirements regarding ballot box placement have created these situations.
Ballot boxes are required at county clerk’s offices, municipal clerk’s offices in towns with over 5,000 people, community college campuses, the main campus of State colleges/universities, and the main campus of any private 4-year college/university with more than 5,000 students.
In many ways, these requirements make sense – they help guarantee boxes will be placed in highly trafficked areas. But when these sites are all located within just a few blocks of each other, it can leave entire neighborhoods in that municipality without any nearby boxes.
With trust in the U.S. Postal Service undermined by former President Trump’s sabotage last year and the vast majority of voters having used drop boxes instead of the mail during the 2020 presidential election, access to these boxes is crucial.
Someone with a lot of free time or easy access to transportation might not mind going out of their way to drop off a ballot. But anyone without reliable transportation – which is often the case in urban areas – may decide it’s just not worth it or even possible to deliver their ballot.
When I became aware of the unequal distribution of ballot boxes in places like Camden – where four boxes are practically on top of one another but nowhere else in the city – I knew our state had to address this issue to ensure greater access throughout our communities.
That’s why I sponsored bill A-5373 – now law – which will allow county boards of election going forward to determine new locations for certain ballot drop boxes if they are within 2,000 feet of each other– regardless of the aforementioned requirements.
So if you have two college campuses right next to each other, one of those boxes might be better served in a neighborhood a few miles away without any academic institutions. Under this law, that relocation will now be possible.
Since each box must remain within the same municipality, residents won’t have to worry about losing access to ballot boxes either – they’ll simply have them redistributed more evenly throughout their town/city.
Ultimately, this law will save taxpayers money by allowing boards of elections to better allocate the resources they already have, rather than purchasing entirely new boxes. It will also expand upon the Legislature’s original goal of making elections more accessible to residents by meeting every community’s needs.
That’s why it has the support of organizations such as the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Jesse Burns said that “ballot drop boxes proved incredibly popular with voters. As we expand the number of boxes available, we must ensure distribution is equitable, particularly in our cities. This law aims to ensure that all voters have equal access to drop boxes.”
Unlike places such as Georgia, where legislation was recently signed into law to try to make it harder to vote, New Jersey values our democracy and wants to make voting more accessible to our residents.
If we want all eligible New Jerseyans to have the opportunity to participate in our elections without encountering needless barriers, this is how we do that.
This piece was originally published on NJ.com on April 26, 2021: https://www.nj.com/opinion/2021/04/because-of-this-law-elections-will-be-fairer-opinion.html