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New Jersey May Ban Police at Polling Station, Ballot Drop Boxes

Both chambers of the state’s Legislature have passed a bill that would limit police presence and prohibit electioneering within 100 feet of ballot drop boxes on election day, in an effort to discourage voter intimidation.

(TNS) — Police officers can soon be barred from hanging around polling stations and ballot drop boxes on election days in New Jersey under legislation advocates say is needed to protect against voter intimidation.

Both chambers of the Legislature approved a bill Monday that would limit police presence — for plain-clothed or uniformed officers — and would also prohibit any electioneering within 100 feet of a ballot drop box.

“I remember back in 1981 when Republicans had plain-clothed police officers at the polls,” state Sen. Shirley Turner, D- Mercer, one of the prime sponsors of the bill. “It was intimidation. They were doing it to suppress the vote.”

Turner referred to the so-called Ballot Security Task Force, which was established by the Republican National Committee amid a gubernatorial race that year between Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Jim Florio. The stated mission of the task force was to prevent voter fraud and comprised of off-duty police officers patrolling polling places.

Kean defeated Florio by less than 2,000 votes out of more than 2.3 million people who voted across the state.

The New Jersey Democratic State Committee sued after the election. They alleged the task force targeted Black and Hispanic polling places. A subsequent consent decree barred the practice of police monitoring polling stations. But it expired in 2017, Turner said.

“This is to ensure they don’t pull something like that again,” she said.

She also argued it could benefit tens of thousands of New Jerseyans who are on parole and probation who were eligible to vote in the last presidential election under a law Gov. Phil Murphy signed in late 2019. Turner said those people could be easily intimidated by seeing law enforcement at polling stations.

Police, of course, are able to go to a polling place to cast their ballots.

The legislation would take effect immediately if Murphy signs it into law.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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