Permanent, No-Excuse Vote by Mail Law Approved in New Jersey; First State East of Mississippi River to Do So

Permanent, No-Excuse Vote by Mail Law Approved in New Jersey;
First State East of Mississippi River to Do So

Thursday, July 9, 2009




Permanent, No-Excuse Vote by Mail Law Approved in New Jersey; First State East of Mississippi River to Do So

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.

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Some States Wasting Money on Job Bidding Wars and Corporate Subsidies

Overall, federal recovery spending is working as intended, helping states provide needed services and avoid layoffs that would be worsening unemployment rates.  The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that these funds are providing states with 40 percent of what is needed to help their budgets in balance over the next few fiscal years.  The recovery plan has provided states with flexibility in addressing key programs and priorities.

Unfortunately, a number of states have wasted budget funds on trying to steal jobs from one another, as highlighted by Good Jobs First.  A few of the worst examples:

  • A multi-state bidding war for a battery production consortium ended up with Kentucky offering $200 million to subsidize a 2,000-worker facility at a cost of $100,000 per job.
  • Georgia paid $100 million to NCR to move its 1250-person headquarters from Dayton, Ohio - its home for 125 years - down to an Atlanta suburb.
  • New Jersey has approved a radical new Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law that gives developers a whole range of subsidies.

As Good Jobs First writes, this is part of a long-term trend where "footloose states and cities like a fiddle so that small businesses and working families get stuck with higher taxes and lousier public services." 

But in a time of economic crisis when state budgets are devastated, wasting money on zero-sum bidding wars is destructive to the overall economy, since it diverts money from investments in people and infrastructure that will actually build long-term economic competitiveness for our country.  

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Arizona Defeats All Anti-Immigrant Bills

Budget issues consumed many state legislatures this session, and Arizona was no different. Prior to the budget bill hearings a grand total of four bills were passed, and the floodgates broke after state legislators hammered out a budget agreement. State Senator Russell Pearce, the main proponent of anti-immigrant bills in the state (and sponsor of 17 of 27 punitive bills), saw it as a prime opportunity to push his unrealistic bills forward. Russell, a chapter leader of an anti-immigrant network, State Legislators for Legal Immigration, particularly wanted to pass HB 2280 which sought to limit the discretion of local law enforcement officials to police their own counties, and was seen by most as unconstitutional.

Groups such as Border Action Network took the lead on coordinating 40,000 emails to legislators to oppose State Senator Russell Pearce’s anti-immigrant bills from becoming law.  Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network declared:

There was unprecedented response from Arizona residents. It is clear that Arizonans are tired of the repressive mentality that Russell Pearce has sought to promote. We want to see our legislature transform our state into one with a strong economy, that is welcoming, innovative and forward thinking. Pearce is completely out of touch with Arizona's needs, its residents and its future.

In the 11th hour, in what was the last step before HB 2280 would have been transmitted to the Governor for her approval, Republicans and Democrats alike in the House of Representatives voted the bill down, after it had previously been approved in the State Senate.

His failure to pass any of his bills puts him in the same league as other members of SLLI that have been defanged by members of their own party, who see the actions of these “lone wolves” as increasingly antiquated, erratic, and contrary to public safety. A recent article on the legislative victory stated:

“Many police bosses in Arizona have resisted past efforts to have local officers confront border woes, saying it would detract from investigations of crime in their communities and jeopardize the trust they have built in immigrant communities.”

Pearce promises that the bill will come back to life next session, but this is the third time since 2006 that such legislation has been brought up and failed to become law. Two previous times, then-Governor Napolitano vetoed the bill.

Defeating anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona is no mean feat, as a border state where tensions have historically run high it has become ground zero in the national debate over immigration. Pearce’s failure marks a turning point in the debate, and perhaps a return to sanity.

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Research Roundup

Safety Net Effective at Fighting Poverty But Has Weakened for the Very Poorest - While aid programs are more effective in fighting poverty than often recognized, they have become less effective in addressing deep poverty in the last ten years, according to this analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Every State Needs Health Care Reform - These fact sheets for all 50 states by the Center for American Progress highlight the billions of dollars in lost productivity due to lack of insurance faced by Americans who live shorter lives with poorer health in each state.

African Americans see weekly wage decline - While other groups have seen a modest rise in weekly wages over the last 2 years, African Americans are the only group to experience a decline, as this Economic Policy Institute snapshot illustrates.

Three new reports on civil legal aid for low-income families:

  • And Justice for All: Prioritizing Free Legal Assistance During the Great Recession - With families needing legal help to address foreclosures, health problems, education needs and physical safety, this Center for American Progress report highlights the need for government to protect and expand funding for legal aid organizations to provide free legal help for poor and low-income working families.
  • Civil Legal Aid in the United States: An Update for 2009 - This CLASP report notes that civil legal aid is facing reductions in funding from state sources which, until 2009, had been expanding and had overtaken federal Legal Services Corporation funding as the largest source of civil legal aid funding.  Substantively, there is progress in the states in promoting the right-to-counsel in civil matters for low-income families and this is likely to intensify in future years.
  • Language Access in State Courts - As this Brennan Center report details, 13 million people with limited proficiency in English live in states which do not require courts to provide interpreters in most types of civil cases and another 6 million live in states which charge for using them -- with many of these states violating the federal Civil Rights Act in doing so.  However, the report also details efforts by many states to overcome these problems.

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Permanent, No-Excuse Vote by Mail Law Approved in New Jersey; First State East of Mississippi River to Do So

New Jersey Vote by Mail Law - 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

Some States Wasting Money on Job Bidding Wars and Corporate Subsidies

Good Jobs First - Will the Stimulus Be Frittered by Job Wars Among States?
Center for Budget and Policy Priorities - Federal Fiscal Relief for States Is Working as Intended
Progressive States Network - Fix Failed Tax Subsidies

Arizona Defeats All Anti-Immigrant Bills

Border Action Network
Progressive States Network - State Roundups and Anti-Immigrant State Legislators Largely Marginalized


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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