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Permanent Vote by Mail Option Approved in First State East of Mississippi

On June 30th New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed the Vote by Mail Law of 2008, which allows all voters to permanently register to vote-by-mail, referred to as permanent absentee voting. The law, sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak and Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, also replaces New Jersey's multiple absentee voting systems with one streamlined system for all mail-in voters.

The bill should be a great help to election officials who will only have to manage one mail-in voting system, and will process fewer absentee ballot requests as many voters choose the permanent absentee option.  Permanent absentee voting is available in Colorado, California, Montana and Washington.  While reforms like permanent absentee have been taking hold in Western states for some time, Maine is the only other Northeastern state that even allows voters to choose an absentee ballot without a special reason, and no other state east of the Mississippi River allows permanent absentee mail-in voting.  In this context, moving to permanent absentee voting and streamlining the absentee system makes the state the clear leader in the region.

The states that already offer the permanent absentee option have seen its use rise quickly. This year Colorado held its first presidential election with permanent absentee, and both voters and elected officials gave the program strong support. The result was that almost half of all voters requested a mail-in ballot, constituting over three-quarters of all votes cast before election day. Permanent absentee is similarly popular in California; and Oregon and Washington came to their current mostly-mail elections after voters' positive experiences with permanent absentee.  Under New Jersey's version of permanent absentee, voters could apply once to receive either a ballot in every election for the next year or receive ballots indefinitely for all general elections.

Other Mail-in Voting Laws Passed Recently:  Several other state legislatures have extended access to mail-in voting options this session.

  • No-Excuse Absentee - Illinois lawmakers have sent Governor Quinn a bill [S 2022] to allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason for needing to vote absentee.
  • Permanent Absentee - Maine has committed to a pilot program for permanent absentee voting in one or more municipalities.  The program will apply to statewide elections and will last from Nov. 2009 to Nov. 2010; the Secretary of State must report to the legislature on the pilot by Feb. 2011.
  • Vote-by-Mail Elections - West Virginia has passed a vote-by-mail pilot project [H 3134] that will allow five municipalities to conduct municipal elections entirely by mail.  The pilot runs until the end of 2013.  New Mexico has allowed vote-by-mail elections for small, isolated election precincts of less than 50 voters.

Resources:
New Jersey Vote by Mail Law

NewJerseyNewsroom.com - Jersey 'Vote By Mail' Bill Heads to the Governor’s Desk
Progressive States Network - Mail-in and Early Voting
Vote-by-Mail Project
Common Cause - Vote by Mail