TRENTON — The state Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to increase the number of people who will automatically get mail-in ballots, a day after the Senate passed it.
It now heads to the governor’s desk, and could be signed in time for the November general election.
The bill requires election officials to send vote-by-mail ballots for all future elections to those who requested them from 2016 to 2018, unless they explicitly opt-out.
It passed 44-14, with no abstentions. Democrats generally favored the bill, citing greater voter participation; while Republicans opposed it, saying the paper ballots sent by mail increase the possibility of fraudulent voting.
It also appropriates $2 million to help counties with the added costs.
Mail-in ballots must be sent out 45 days ahead of an election, so the law would have to be changed quickly if ballots are to be sent by Sept. 21 for the November Assembly election.
A law passed last September mandated the paper mail-in ballots be sent to all those who requested one in 2016, according to an interpretation by the secretary of state.
The 2018 law created a large spike in the number of mail-in votes cast and confusion at the polls that also resulted in a huge increase in provisional paper ballots.
Democrats said the 2018 law was intended to cover 2017 and 2018 as well. So they called a special session of the Senate on Monday, and of the Assembly on Tuesday, to vote on expanding the years covered.
Use of the paper ballots hit a high of almost 12,000 of 96,000 votes cast in Atlantic County in November 2018, and is expected to keep increasing. Mail-in ballots were most popular in Atlantic City and Pleasantville, where there has been a history of alleged and proven vote tampering.
Provisional ballots hit a high for non-presidential elections of 2,158 at the same time, according to officials.
The confusion was related to the many people who were automatically sent the ballots but were unaware of the new law, and showed up on Election Day at the polls.
Because they were on a list of having received a mail-in ballot, they were not allowed to vote by machine but had to fill out provisional paper ballots. Each provisional would only be counted once it was determined the person had not cast a vote by mail.
It cost a lot of extra money and time, said Board of Elections Chairwoman Evelyn “Lynn” Caterson last November.
Some say the same thing will happen this year since the law is again changing after a primary and right before a general election.