Bill to OK early vote counting is temporarily torpedoed by Senate absences
A measure that would have allowed election officials to count early votes before the polls close on Election Day failed to advance Thursday after opposition from Republicans and a single Democrat. The bill stalled after a 20-16 vote in the upper chamber but was pulled from the agenda without the voting period being closed, a move that allows the bill to return at a future session without being reintroduced. The measure would allow election officials to begin tallying early in-person votes the day before an election and cleared officials to canvass mail-in ballots up to 10 days before an election. “This bill would allow for undermining the sanctity of the vote, and if we have to wait for the vote, nothing happens, right? You just wait for the vote,” Gill said on the Senate floor. Though bills introduced in previous legislative sessions would also have allowed election officials to begin tallying some votes before Election Day, the proposal received a second wind after 2021’s legislative elections, where voluminous vote-by-mail returns and slow counts of the same left some races without a clear victor for days.
Four members did not attend Thursday’s Senate session, including Democratic Sens. Republicans opposed the measure over a concern that early counts would leak to campaigns and lend them an unfair advantage over opponents in the closing days of a race. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the faith that my colleagues have that this doesn’t leak out,” said Sen. The measure would criminalize early-result leaks and require a penalty of up to five years in prison. “They didn’t go around telling people, ‘Oh, Singleton’s ahead, so you could stay home’ or ‘Singleton needs more votes, so you better hurry up and get your votes in.
“If we don’t get back to a place where we know election results on election night, we’re going to get conspiracy theories, and we’re going to continue to get people thinking things went wrong,” said Gopal. Gopal pulled ahead of his challenger after officials began counting mail-in ballots. Elected Republicans in New Jersey largely did not allege conspiracy theories over last year’s election, though some rank-and-file voters did claim foul play when Gov. Coughlin’s bill, which cleared an Assembly committee in a unanimous vote earlier this month and does not yet have a Senate counterpart, would also truncate the state’s grace period for late-arriving mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day from six days to three.
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