Ballot drop box placement bill tabled after testimony

NJ Globe's Nikita Biryukov reports

The Senate State Government Committee pulled a bill that would have allowed county election boards to decide the placement of all ballot drop boxes after an advocate voiced concerns that the bill did nothing to prevent unequal placements.

The measure, sponsored by Senate State Government Committee Chairman James Beach (D-Voorhees), would eliminate provisions requiring drop boxes be installed at certain locations, like county clerk offices and colleges campuses, instead allowing election boards to decide drop box placement through a majority vote.

But Henal Patel, director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s Democracy and Justice Program, warned the committee unequal distribution would continue because the bill did not peg drop boxes to population.

“These decisions made by county officials have downsides, and with this, as with so many other issues, the brunt of those decisions are felt by black and other voters of color,” she said. “Notably, the current law does not prevent disparate placement from occurring either.”

She pointed to Newark, the state’s most populous city which last year received just two drop boxes. West Orange, an Essex County town with a little more than one-sixth of Newark’s population, also had two drop boxes.

East Orange, which has 16,654 more residents than West Orange, only got a single drop box.

Patel also expressed concerns that the bill did nothing to prevent drop boxes being placed next to police stations, warning such placement could depress turnout among voters of color.

In a move somewhat unusual for Trenton, Beach, who is also the bill’s sponsor, tabled the measure in real time.

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