A bill passed by the state Senate and Assembly that would enable in-person early voting in New Jersey is a good idea, but we're afraid lawmakers may have gone too far.
We're in favor of making it more convenient for New Jersey residents to vote. Our Tuesday-after-the-first-Monday-in-November Election Day tradition stems from a time when a largely rural population did not want to travel by wagon to polling places on the Sabbath. A lot has changed since then.
Today, for people who are working odd hours or two jobs or who are struggling to meet family obligations before and after work, showing up at a polling place on Election Day simply may not be practical.
Emergencies can make things even worse. Last year, with the election held just a week after Hurricane Sandy, voter turnout in New Jersey (as a percentage of eligible voters) was the lowest ever for a presidential election.
Gov. Chris Christie quickly tried to make provisions so that people displaced by the hurricane could vote, even by fax or email. But there was no system - or legal structure - in place to handle such ballots. So we welcome some expansion of in-person voting that would make such piecemeal, on-the-fly measures unnecessary.
But under the Democratic bill, which passed along party lines, voters would be able to cast ballots beginning 15 days before primary and general elections until the Sunday before Election Day. Each county would designate at least three polling places - larger counties would have more, up to seven - that would be open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
That seems like overkill.
The cost estimate for the first year of early voting is $22 million. Supporters say this assumes that counties would upgrade paper books to electronic poll books, but since that is not mandated by the legislation, the cost could be substantially lower. But surely it would be very expensive to simply man multiple polling places 10 hours a day for two weeks.
On top of this, New Jersey already has voting by mail, which is open to everyone. Ballot applications are available from county clerks, campaign workers, political parties and at njelections.org. County clerks check signatures on the applications and mail out ballots.
We've said before that voing by mail makes us nervous, especially because the law allows completed ballots to be picked up by third parties and delivered to clerks' offices, a system that has been abused in Atlantic County elections in the past.
So some form of early, in-person voting, something more secure than mail-in ballots, would be an improvement. And at a time when some states are moving to make voting more difficult, a bill that expands voter access in New Jersey also has great symbolic value.
Unfortunately, by overreaching, Democratic lawmakers have made it easy for Christie to veto this expensive and excessive mandate.