Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Vote-by-Mail changes signed into NJ law

Recently Passed Vote-By-Mail Legislation Got it’s Kick-Start from the Citizens of Hoboken


New Jersey Appleseed is pleased that the NJ Senate passed new vote-by-mail (VBM) legislation on August 10, 2015.  One update, the law reduces the number of voters a person can serve as messenger and limits the number of VBMs that a bearer can deliver to three.  Executive Director, Renee Steinhagen, initially proposed some of these legal updates last year.

Renee Steinhagen’s legal efforts focus on voter rights issues and more recently this new VBM legislation after representing the Hoboken Fair Housing Association (HFHA) in a challenge to their 2013 election victory against a ballot initiative intended to weaken Hoboken rent protections.  At the heart of the election challenge were approximately 300 vote-by-mail ballots that had been disqualified by the Hudson County Board of Elections.  

The court challenge to the election was withdrawn after the judge ruled that Steinhagen could call 180 voters to testify to the manner in which they had cast their VBM ballot, but Steinhagen and many Hoboken residents were still intent on seeing legislative changes to New Jersey’s VBM law because many residents believed that, in Hoboken, voters were often paid to sign their ballot and illicitly allowing it to be filled out by unscrupulous campaign workers or filled in outright for a fee.

With the support of many Hoboken residents behind her; dozens of whom attended a fund raiser last year hosted by Councilwoman Giattino to raise money to assist NJ Appleseed in pursuing legislative changes, Steinhagen drafted a bill that would ban campaign workers from serving as ballot bearers, limit the type of voter who could receive assistance to the disabled and limit the number of ballots that a bearer can submit in a given election.  Following the fundraiser, Steinhagen met with NJ Senator Vitale’s office where there was a similar concern on VBM issues in Perth Amboy.  Ultimately the draft was passed off to Senator Lesniak who introduced the legislation that was ultimately passed and signed by NJ Governor Chris Christie.

Renee Steinhagen
Steinhagen has stated that this is an important and positive step and, while the restricting of direct assistance was not included in the final bill and more work needs to be done; this legislation should have a positive impact on future elections in Hoboken.

Steinhagen modestly declines to take any credit for the legislation because she did not work with Senator Lesniak and does not know the extent to which her draft of the bill was considered when the final bill was crafted; but many Hoboken residents that have had strong concerns about vote-by-mail fraud for decades feel differently.  Even though Senator Lesniak took over the cause and spearheaded the VBM legislation to passage;  with the support of Hoboken residents behind her, Steinhagen’s  tenacious advocacy for changes to VBM ballots happened at exactly the right time, and timing, as they say, is everything.

Related: PolitickerNJ covered the story of the NJ VBM rules being tightened.