By Briana Cornelius

On August 10, 2015, the New Jersey legislature passed a new state election law, Public Law 2015, Chapter 84, which limits the number of “Vote by Mail” ballots that a designated delivery person can pick up and deliver on behalf of other registered voters. Under the New Jersey “Vote by Mail Law,” an “authorized messenger” is an individual who is permitted to obtain mail-in ballots for other qualified voters. Previously, authorized messengers were allowed to obtain up to ten ballots for delivery to other voters, and “bearers” were permitted to return an unlimited number of completed ballots to county election boards on behalf of other voters.  The new law, which took effect immediately, reduces the number of ballots that both an authorized messenger and bearer can deliver to just three. This change in the law (you can see the previous version of the law here) represents the first time there has been any limit on the number of ballots that a bearer can deliver to county election officials.

In addition, the new law requires the bearer of completed mail-in ballots to present valid identification to county election officials upon delivery of the ballots. The bearer’s identification must be officially recognized by the county, state, or federal government, and must include the full address and signature of the bearer. The law also revises the criminal intent level required for conviction under the state’s Vote by Mail Law. The previous version of the Vote by Mail Law held that it was a crime of the third degree to “knowingly and with intent to commit fraud” violate any of the provisions of the law. However, with the passage of P.L. 2015, c. 84, the “intent to commit fraud” requirement has been eliminated entirely, and a knowing violation alone is sufficient for criminal conviction.

As has reported, these changes limiting the number of ballots that an authorized messenger and bearer can deliver could have quite an impact on institutions such as nursing homes, hospitals, or other facilities where an individual or social worker has historically been able to both collect and deliver mail-in ballots on behalf of voters who might otherwise have physical difficulties collecting or delivering their ballots. It is no longer acceptable for one or two individuals to deliver a large number of completed ballots on behalf of an entire facility. This measure will also stifle the efforts of individual campaigns to collect and deliver voter mail-in ballots as well. Efforts are now focused on making sure that voters are aware of the new law, so as to prevent any disenfranchisement issues.

The bi-partisan bill was introduced in the New Jersey Legislature in January 2014 and its primary sponsors were Senators Raymond Lesniak (D) and Jim Whelan (D), and Assemblymen John Burzichelli (D) and Declan O’Scanlon (R). The bill was passed in both the Senate and in the Assembly without a single dissenting vote. The County Clerk of Monmouth County, Christine Giordano Hanlon, stated: “This new law is critical to preventing manipulation of the voting process,” “[a]nd it will reduce the opportunity for fraud and abuse of the system. I congratulate the legislature and the Governor for acknowledging the need to protect the integrity of the process.” New Law Advisory Memos describing these changes were circulated to assignment judges within the New Jersey Court System on August 27th, and as of October 22nd, 2015, the new law was noted prominently on the New Jersey Division of Elections’ homepage.

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