To help ensure more equal distribution of ballot drop boxes throughout a municipality, Assembly Democrats Bill Moen, Anthony Verrelli and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson sponsor a bill to allow county boards of elections to relocate certain ballot boxes. The legislation passed the full Senate and Assembly Thursday, 24-12 and 50-21-0 respectively.
Criteria established by law regarding placement of ballot drop boxes – such as at college campuses and municipal buildings – has resulted in certain boxes being located much closer to each other than other boxes. This has left some residents without any boxes nearby and other residents with more than one box in their vicinity.
The bill (A-5373/S-3596) would allow county boards of elections to relocate boxes if they are within 2,000 feet of another box – regardless of existing criteria regarding placement. Members of a county’s Board of Elections would determine the new location, which must be within the same municipality as it was originally located.
“It is not fair for some New Jersey residents to have to trek miles to drop their ballot off while other residents have multiple boxes to choose from within just blocks of each other,” said Assemblyman Moen (D-Camden, Gloucester). “Rather than spending taxpayer money on entirely new boxes, this legislation will permit county boards of elections to better allocate the resources they already have. Allowing them to determine better locations for boxes that are unnecessarily close together will help give more voters equal access to these secure receptacles.”
During 2020, New Jersey expanded its use of mail-in ballots to allow residents to safely participate in elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Boxes were placed throughout the state to serve as another way for residents to deliver their ballots, if they did not want to put their ballot in the mail or physically hand it in at a polling site.
“Mail-in voting is a beneficial alternative to in-person voting for many residents who cannot make it to their polling place on election day,” said Assemblyman Verrelli (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Evenly distributing drop boxes throughout New Jersey communities will help provide the many residents who choose to vote-by-mail with secure locations they can easily access to drop off their ballots going forward.”
Whenever possible, the bill mandates that at least one ballot drop box must be located in a municipality with an average per capita income or a median family income at/below 250 percent of the federal poverty guideline.
“Ballot boxes are here to stay,” said Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “Making sure all residents have equitable access to them, in a way that does not burden taxpayers, will go a long way in advancing our efforts to guarantee fair elections throughout our state.”
“Drop boxes, strongly embraced by New Jersey voters in previous elections, are secure and reliable and should be easily accessed. A-5373 will ensure that the number of drop boxes in municipalities is maintained while also allowing needed flexibility for them to be placed where they are most accessible to voters,” said Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy and Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice – an organization in support of the bill. “We commend lawmakers for ensuring that this bill addresses deficiencies in current law by requiring that drop boxes not be disparately placed in a manner that hinders access for Black and other voters of color in our cities.”
The legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk.