Keep police away from election polling places? Jersey Shore lawmakers throw challenge flag
Legislation making its way through the Statehouse in Trenton, which has cleared an Assembly panel, would prevent police from being within 100-feet of a polling place and limit their presence overall at polling places.
While it passed, there are a number of legislators voicing their concerns for what this bill would do in preventing police from providing security at polling places and opening the door for something terrible to happen.
Senate Bill No. 2923, would change a number of security measures at polling places and during election season.
Among those changes would be limiting the presence of law enforcement officers and agencies at polling places and during the conduct of elections as well as not allow a district board of election members from requesting a police presence be detailed to preserve the peace and the legislation would not allow a law enforcement officer on or off duty and in or out of uniform from standing or being within 100-feet of a police place during an election except when voting as individuals.
An Assembly Panel recently approved the bill, according to New Jersey Globe, who reports that the bill now going to the Senate was approved by them in February 25-13.
While this is happening, a number of Republican legislators are voicing their concerns, much like with the Marijuana Law that subjects police to criminal charges (3rd Degree Crime for Depravation of Civil Rights) for initiating an investigation into underage use, about how having a lack of police at election places leaves the door open for crime and injury.
Police who violate the election law would face a 4th Degree Criminal Charge.
"I can't think of another statute that's ever been passed in this house where we would bar a law enforcement officer from patrolling, investigating, walking through any other public building in this state," Ocean County Assemblyman Greg McGuckin (R-10) said at the Statehouse. "There are hard targets and there are soft targets. What this bill does is make every single polling district, every single polling place a soft target for someone who may wish to do mischief. I'm not talking about somebody trying to campaign, I'm talking about something much more serious. If I'm a terrorist, where am I going to go? I'm going to go where the law says the police can't go and I'm going to find people exercising their rights in a democracy to vote because that's the antithesis of what they believe. What we're doing is saying to anyone else...you want to cause harm, wait until election day and go to a polling place, a public building where people are lined up to exercise their rights. This piece of legislation, respectfully, is misguided."
Monmouth County Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-13) raised a red flag and challenged one of the sponsors of the bill, Mercer County Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, over Trenton Democrats saying they worked with law enforcement in drafting this legislation, which the State GOP said is opposed by the state Fraternal Order of Police, the Sheriffs Association of New Jersey, county clerks and county election officials.
"You said you spoke with and worked with police agencies, can you tell me who they are?", DiMaso asked Reynolds-Jackson.
"The State Troopers Fraternal Order of Police and also the Clerks Association," Reynolds-Jackson said.
"The Fraternal Order of Police is still in opposition of the bill, so can you possibly tell us what their concerns were or why they weren't addressed?," DiMaso said.
"The State Troopers Association is not...everyone isn't in support of but the overall from the law enforcement agencies, individual police officers, sheriff's officers from our state troopers as well have definitely been in support. I've talked with them, I've talked with several people that have been a participant in crafting this."
One of the other issues that Assemblywoman DiMaso raised with with Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson is the lack of communication if something does go wrong.
"Right now, you notify your clerk and then they notify everybody else and for them to have to now worry about what's going on in the polls and then make all these phone calls, I think it's just going to create more havoc there," DiMaso said.
She is asking Reynolds-Jackson to review the bill and leave it open for a possible amendment.
"There are a lot of adjustments that have been made, especially in this public pandemic that we're in and and homeland security and protecting our voter integrity. A lot has changed and there are many more emergency plans that are in place and so there are a lot more phone calls that they have to make now that they didn't have to make before," Reynolds-Jackson said.
Assemblywoman DiMaso then echoed a similar concern as many of her fellow NJ GOP legislators made in that this bill demonizes police.
"This to me feels like an attack on our police officers. They are good people, they are not out there to get anybody or intimidate anybody at the polls, in my opinion," DiMaso said. "I understand the intent of the bill, I understand that we come from different parts of the state so perhaps there are different issues but in my opinion, the police officers...we need to teach our children and we need to teach our friends and family that police officers are good people. As the daughter of a police officer and a sister of a police officer, this bill is yet another attack on them. I urge you all to vote no or to send it back so we can fix it so it doesn't seem that way."