SENATE BILL NO. 92

 

 

To the Senate:

     Pursuant to Article V, Section I, Paragraph 14 of the New Jersey Constitution, I am returning Senate Bill No. 92 with my recommendations for reconsideration.

This bill contains commendable amendments to New Jersey’s Overseas Residents Absentee Voting Law (the “Act”) that expand the definition of overseas voters to include spouses, civil union partners, domestic partners, and dependents of military service members as well as foreign-born United States citizens; clarify certain definitions and language in the Act; and make certain technical changes.  I endorse these proposed amendments to the Act that recognize the rights of overseas United States citizens who are not currently included within the Act’s scope to participate in the election process, and also that appropriately update the language of the Act.      

However, the bill also proposes amendments to the Act that raise policy, legal, and practical concerns, and are inconsistent with our State’s treatment of domestic voters.

I am predominantly concerned with the bill’s proposal to permit all overseas voters to vote in New Jersey state and local elections regardless of their intention to return to the United States.  Certainly, I agree with the sponsors that overseas voters should continue to be permitted to vote in federal elections if they are United States citizens.  Moreover, both military service members sent overseas and temporarily relocated voters have a stake in the future governance of New Jersey and the locality where they previously resided because they plan to return, and therefore should be encouraged to participate in local elections.  However, allowing overseas voters to participate in elections on state and local issues when they have no intention of ever returning to the United States (or, in the case of U.S. citizens born abroad, have never resided in the United States and never intend to do so) makes little sense and is inconsistent with how most other states address this issue.   

I am also concerned that the bill would provide virtually unfettered discretion to local election officials to determine which mistakes, omissions, and technical errors disqualify an election document, particularly where the bill is devoid of any guidelines.  Further, changes to the Act that would allow the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot to simultaneously be used by an overseas voter to register to vote, apply for a ballot, and to cast a vote creates a significant administrative burden and the potential for voter fraud.  Finally, amending the Act to provide that an electronic address provided by an overseas voter for purposes of receiving a ballot is exempt from disclosure under the Open Public Records Act is not only inconsistent with how information from domestic voters is treated, it is also anathema to the principles underlying that statute. 

Based on the foregoing, I am recommending changes that eliminate parts of the bill that raise legal and practical concerns, while accepting those provisions that expand participation for overseas military members and citizens and their family members, and that recognize the commonsense distinction between those overseas voters who intend to return to the United States, and those who do not. 

Accordingly, I herewith return Senate Bill No. 92 and recommend that it be amended as follows:

Page 2, Section 1, Line 16:              After “c.” insert ““Federal election” means any general, special or primary held for the purpose of nominating or electing any candidate for the office of President or Vice President of the United States, Presidential elector, United States Senator or member of the United States House of Representatives.

d.”

 

Page 2, Section 1, Line 23:              Delete “d.” and insert “e.”

 

Page 2, Section 1, Line 33:              After “States” insert “temporarily”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 5:               After “States.” insert  “f. “Overseas federal election voter” means any citizen of the United States residing abroad who does not intend to return or whose intent to return is uncertain and who (1) immediately prior to departure from the United States was domiciled in New Jersey and (a) was last registered to vote, or last eligible to register and vote, in New Jersey; or (b) would have been eligible to register and vote in New Jersey except that the citizen had not attained 18 years of age the requirement of which has since been met; or (c) would have been eligible to register and vote in New Jersey except that the citizen had not met the residency requirement; (2) is not registered or qualified to vote elsewhere in the United States; and (3) holds a valid passport or passport card or other proof of citizenship issued under authority of the Secretary of State of the United States.”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 10:              Delete “or” and insert “,”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 10:              After “guardian” insert “, spouse, partner in civil union, or domestic partner”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 15:              Delete “e.” and insert “g.”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 20:              Delete “f.” and insert “h.”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 22:              Delete “g.” and insert “i.”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 25:              Delete “h.” and insert “j.”

 

Page 3, Section 1, Line 27:              Delete “i.” and insert “k.”

 

Page 3, Section 2, Line 38:              After “(C.19:59-1 et seq.),” insert “as amended by P.L.  , c.  (C.   )


(pending before the Legislature as this bill): a. any person meeting the qualifications of an overseas voter may register to vote and may apply for and vote by mail-in ballot in any election held in the election district of this State in which the voter was formerly domiciled; and

b.”

 

Page 3, Section 2, Line 39:              After “overseas” insert “federal election”

 

Page 3, Section 2, Line 40:              Delete “absentee” and insert “mail-in”

 

Page 3, Section 2, Line 40:              After “any” insert “federal”

 

Page 3, Section 2, Line 42:              After “overseas” insert “federal election”

 

Page 3, Section 2, Lines 43-44:          Delete in their entirety and insert “in subsection f. of section 2 of P.L. 1976, c. 23 (C.19:59-2), in which the voter’s parent, legal guardian, spouse, partner in civil union, or domestic partner was”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 4:               After “voter” insert “or a federal election as an overseas federal election voter”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 6:               After “overseas” insert “federal election”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Lines 7-8:            Delete in their entirety and insert “described in subsection f. of section 2 of P.L. 1976, c. 23 (C.19:59-2), in which the voter’s parent, legal guardian, spouse, partner in civil union, or domestic partner”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 9:               Delete “guardian”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 13:              After “overseas voter” insert “or overseas federal election voter”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 19:              Delete “or” and insert “,”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 19:              After “guardian,” insert “spouse, partner in civil union, or domestic partner,”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 28:              Delete “by 3:00 p.m. on the day” and insert “on or before the fourth day”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 30:              After “voter” insert “or overseas federal election voter”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 32:              After “election” insert “in which the voter is eligible to vote”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Line 40:              After “voter” insert “or overseas federal election voter”

 

Page 4, Section 3, Lines 43-46:          Delete in their entirety

 

Page 5, Section 3, Lines 1-10:           Delete in their entirety

 

Page 5, Section 4, Line 15:              Delete “or federal” and insert “,”

 

Page 5, Section 4, Line 16:              Delete in its entirety and insert “an application for a ballot by an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter shall”

 

Page 5, Section 4, Line 18:              Delete in its entirety

 

Page 5, Section 4, Line 35:              Delete “(Form N-600)”

 

Page 5, Section 4, Line 43:              Delete “or” and insert “,”

 

Page 5, Section 4, Line 44:              After “guardian,” insert “spouse, partner in civil union, or domestic partner,”

 

Page 6, Section 4, Line 14:              After “voter” insert “or overseas federal election voter”

 

Page 6, Section 5, Line 22:              After “for” delete “an” and insert “a ballot by an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter”

 

Page 6, Section 5, Line 23:              Delete “overseas ballot”

 

Page 6, Section 6, Line 37:              Delete “Other than a federal write-in absentee ballet, the” and insert “The”

 

Page 6, Section 6, Line 38:              Delete “overseas ballot” and insert “ballot for overseas voters and overseas federal election voters”

 

Page 6, Section 7, Line 43:              Delete “overseas ballots” and insert “ballots sent to overseas voters or overseas federal election voters,”

 

Page 7, Section 7, Line 7:               Delete “overseas ballots sent to the voter” and insert “ballots sent to overseas voters or overseas federal election voters”

 

Page 7, Section 7, Line 19:              Delete “a voted overseas” and insert “an overseas voter’s or overseas federal election voter’s”

 

Page 7, Section 8, Line 27:              After “voter” insert “or overseas federal election voter”

 

Page 7, Section 8, Line 28:              Delete “an overseas” and insert “a”

 

Page 7, Section 8, Line 29:              After “made” insert “and in which the voter is eligible to vote”

 

Page 7, Section 8, Line 32:              Delete “an overseas” and insert “a”

 

Page 7, Section 8, Line 33:              After “elections” insert “in which the voter is eligible to vote”

 

Page 7, Section 9, Lines 37-47:          Delete in their entirety

 

Page 8, Section 9, Lines 1-2:            Delete in their entirety

 

Page 8, Section 10, Lines 4-16:          Delete in their entirety

 

Page 8, Section 11, Lines 18-23:         Delete in their entirety

 

Page 8, Section 12, Line 25:             Delete “12.” and insert “9.”

 

Page 8, Section 12, Line 31:             After “voters” insert “and overseas federal election voters”

 

Page 8, Section 12, Line 34:             After “voters” insert “and overseas federal election voters”

 

Page 8, Section 12, Line 34:             After “elections” insert “in which the voter is eligible to vote”

 

Page 8, Section 12, Line 37:             Delete “overseas voter”

 

Page 8, Section 12, Line 38:             After “means” insert “by overseas voters or overseas federal election voters”

 

Page 8, Section 12, Line 42:             After “voters” insert “and overseas federal election voters”

 

Page 8, Section 13, Line 46:             Delete “13.” and insert “10.”

 

Page 9, Section 13, Line 31:             Delete “or a federal”

 

Page 9, Section 13, Line 32:             Delete “write-in absentee ballot,”

 

Page 10, Line 4:                         Insert new sections 11 through 16 to read as follows:

“11.   Section 8 of P.L.1976, c.23 (C.19:59-8) is amended to read as follows:

a. Each county clerk shall send by air mail, with each [overseas] ballot for an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter transmitted by such means, appropriate printed instructions for its completion and return, together with an inner and outer envelope similar to that required as to civilian [absentee] vote by mail ballots with a legend on the inner envelope stating "[Overseas] Ballot for Overseas Voter” or “Ballot for Overseas Federal Election Voter,” as appropriate. []

b. Each county clerk shall send to each overseas voter or overseas federal election voter requesting that a [an overseas] ballot be sent to that voter by electronic means all appropriate printed instructions for its completion and return. The printed instructions sent to each such voter shall include a certificate substantially the same as provided for in section 9 of P.L.1976, c.23 (C.19:59-9).

c. The printed instructions sent with each [overseas] ballot to an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter, including instructions sent by electronic means, shall include a copy of the following notice:

PENALTY FOR FRAUDULENT VOTING

Any person who knowingly violates any of the provisions of the Overseas Residents Absentee Voting Law, or who, not being entitled to vote thereunder, fraudulently votes or attempts to vote thereunder or enables or attempts to enable another person, not entitled to vote thereunder, to vote fraudulently thereunder or who prevents or attempts to prevent by fraud the voting of any person legally entitled to vote under this act, shall be guilty of an indictable offense, and upon conviction thereof shall be subject, in addition to such other penalties as are authorized by law, to disenfranchisement unless and until pardoned or restored by law to the right of suffrage.

12.    Section 12 of P.L.1993, c.73 (C.19:59-8.1) is amended to read as follows:

Whenever a county clerk receives a request by electronic means from an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter that a [an overseas] ballot be sent to that person by electronic means, the county clerk shall verify the voter's eligibility to vote as an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter in the State and the county desired. If the overseas voter or overseas federal election voter is eligible to vote therein, the county clerk shall send the appropriate ballot to the voter at least 45 days before the day of the election and thereafter by electronic means using the telephone number or electronic address supplied by the voter for that purpose. If the overseas voter or overseas federal election voter is not eligible to vote in the State or the county desired, notice of noneligibility shall be provided to the voter by electronic means as soon as practicable after the receipt of the request.

13.    Section 9 of P.L.1976, c.23 (C.19:59-9) is amended to read as follows:

Upon the margin of the flap of the inner envelope to be sent to an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter shall be printed a certificate substantially as follows:

I, the undersigned, residing at . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . am the person who applied for,

received and voted the enclosed [Overseas] Ballot.

Dated:

.. . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..Voter (SIGNATURE)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..Voter (PRINT or type name)

14.    Section 11 of P.L.1976, c.23 (C.19:59-11) is amended to read as follows:

Upon receipt of each [overseas] ballot from an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter, other than a ballot which had been sent by electronic means to an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter, the signature on the certificate on the inner envelope shall be compared to that on the person's application. All ballots, whether originally sent to an overseas voter or overseas federal election voter by air mail or electronic means, shall be approved, disapproved, processed, counted and disputes in connection therewith shall be handled in the same manner as is applicable to other [absentee] vote by mail ballots. No ballot received after the time designated for the closing of the polls shall be counted.

15.    Section 3 of P.L.1995, c.196 (C.19:59-14) is amended to read as follows:

Notwithstanding any law, rule or regulation to the contrary, a copy of [a] an overseas voter’s or overseas federal election voter’s voted [overseas] ballot, or [of] a voted federal write-in absentee ballot, which is transmitted by electronic means to the appropriate county board of elections in this State shall be considered valid and counted if it:

a. is from a qualified voter;

b. has been transmitted to the appropriate county board of elections no later than the time designated by law for the closing of the polls on that day; and

c. is accompanied by the following statement, which shall be certified by the voter's signature: "I understand that by transmitting by electronic means a copy of my voted ballot I am voluntarily waiving my right to a secret ballot. At the same time, I pledge to place the original voted ballot in a secure envelope, together with any other required certification, and send the documents immediately by air mail to the appropriate county board of elections."

16.    Section 4 of P.L.1995, c.196 (C.19:59-15) is amended to read as follows:

a. Immediately after a copy of [the] an overseas voter’s or overseas federal election voter’s voted [overseas] ballot, or a voted federal write-in absentee ballot, has been transmitted by electronic means to the appropriate county board of elections, as permitted pursuant to section 3 of P.L.1995, c.195 (C.19:59-14), the overseas voter or overseas federal election voter shall place the original voted ballot in a secure envelope, together with a certificate substantially the same as provided for in section 9 of P.L.1976, c.23 (C.19:59-9), and send the documents by air mail to the appropriate county board of elections.

b. All copies of voted ballots received by electronic means shall be approved, disapproved, processed and counted, and disputes in connection therewith shall be handled, in the same manner as is applicable to other [absentee] vote by mail ballots. No ballot received after the time designated for the closing of the polls shall be counted.

c. The county board of elections shall take all necessary precautions to preserve the security of the ballot materials and specifically shall ensure that the vote cast by a voter using a ballot transmitted by electronic means is not revealed, except to the extent necessary by law or judicial determination. Upon the completion of all inspections of a ballot transmitted by electronic means required by law, the board or any employee thereof acting under its direction shall promptly separate the waiver certification from the ballot transmitted by electronic means. Any person handling such a ballot shall not identify the votes cast by any voter, except upon judicial determination.

d. Prior to certification of the results of the election, the county board shall:

     (1) compare the information on the copy transmitted by electronic means of each voted ballot with the same on the original voted ballot sent by air mail by the voter who transmitted to the county board a copy of the voted ballot by electronic means, and the signature on the statement received by electronic means with the signature on the certificate received by air mail; and

     (2) ascertain whether an original voted ballot has been received for each copy of a voted ballot received by electronic means and counted.

Whenever the particulars of the copy of a voted ballot transmitted by electronic means do not conform exactly with the particulars of the original voted ballot sent by air mail to the county board afterwards by that voter and whenever an original voted ballot has not been received which corresponds to a copy of a voted ballot transmitted by electronic means which has been received and counted by the county board, those ballots and all other pertinent documents and information relative to those ballots shall be turned over to the superintendent of elections in counties having a superintendent and the prosecutor in all other counties for further investigation and action.

e. Within 30 days after the election, the county board shall gather and keep together the copy of the voted ballot transmitted by electronic means, the certified statement and the original voted ballot sent by air mail of each voter who transmitted a copy of a voted ballot by electronic means. Those ballots needed for an investigation conducted by the superintendent of elections or the county prosecutor, as the case may be, or by any other law enforcement official shall be returned to the county board as soon as practicable after the conclusion of the investigation. All ballots and documents relative to a copy of a voted ballot transmitted by electronic means and received by the county board shall be retained by it for a period of one year following the day of the election. The superintendent of elections in counties having a superintendent and the prosecutor in all other counties shall have the authority to impound all such documents whenever the superintendent or prosecutor shall deem such action necessary.”

 


 

Page 10, Section 14, Line 5:             Delete “14.” and insert “17.”

 

                                         Respectfully,

 

     [seal]                              /s/ Chris Christie

 

Governor

 

 

 

Attest:

 

/s/ Scott A. Coffina

 

Senior Deputy Chief Counsel to the Governor