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New Jersey's Democratic governor signs early voting expansion, calls out Georgia

Gov. Phil Murphy condemned sweeping restrictions enacted in Georgia last week in a bill signing event attended by voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams.
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TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Tuesday a bill instituting early voting at an event that sought to draw a contrast between his state and Republican efforts to curb access elsewhere.

"Today, New Jersey reminds the nation that our democracy is made stronger when we make it easier for the people’s voices to be heard," Murphy, a Democrat, said in a Zoom ceremony, surrounded by voting rights advocates that included Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams.

With a nod to Abrams, Murphy continued: "I cannot overlook that this early voting bill passed our legislature the same day that the governor of Georgia was signing a law restricting the rights of Georgians to vote, even making it a crime to give a voter waiting in line a bottle of water."

Democrats control both chambers of the legislature in New Jersey.

Abrams applauded the change and condemned states that have passed restrictions and those that are considering it.

"In-person early voting says to Americans who have to work on a schedule that isn’t based on an agrarian economy from the 18th Century that their voices matter," she said.

Former President Donald Trump's stolen election lie has inspired an avalanche of election-related bills nationwide, as GOP lawmakers around the country seek to add restrictions to mail voting and other electoral practices that they say are needed to improve public confidence in the results. By all accounts, the 2020 election was secure and the results accurate. Trump's own attorney general, William Barr, said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and the president's legal efforts to overturn the results failed in courtrooms around the country.

Democrats and voting rights advocates have criticized the proposals as voter suppression and Republican power grabs. There is restrictive and expansive election legislation under consideration in at least 43 states. So far, Georgia and Iowa have passed major restrictions. Republicans in Texas, Florida and Arizona have advanced restrictive laws through committee hearings, as well.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed into law sweeping changes to the state's electoral system last Thursday, prompting protest and condemnation from President Joe Biden and other top Democrats. The bill expands early voting for most elections, while adding strict requirements elsewhere and dramatically cutting early voting for runoff races. Advocates have sued to stop the law from being implemented.

Kemp hit back against Murphy's remarks in a tweet Tuesday afternoon by noting that his state offers more days of early voting than New Jersey.

Not all election legislation is partisan, though. Monday night, Kentucky’s Republican-controlled Legislature approved a rare bipartisan package of election bills, adding three days of early, in-person absentee voting and codifying some of the election changes the state used to make voting easier during the pandemic.

New Jersey’s bill will create as many as nine days of early voting before elections, and it includes evening hours and two weekends of early voting in general elections

“Weekend and evening hours are critical — not everybody has availability during the ordinary workday on a Tuesday and being able to on a weekend when work or child care obligations are different is hugely helpful to people who don’t have flexibility in their schedule,” said Eliza Sweren-Becker, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law who is tracking state election legislation.

Previously, New Jersey allowed early, in-person absentee voting before elections. Implementing early voting — which means letting voters cast ballots on the same machines used on Election Day — won't be cheap. A nonpartisan fiscal analysis of the legislation estimated that new voting machines, poll books and other required equipment could run the state more than $40 million.

Murphy said the state would work with county officials to ensure a smooth implementation of the new system.

"With that, ladies and gentlemen, this is now the law of the land," Murphy said after signing the bill and holding it up for the rest of the Zoom attendees.