Little-known N.J. council invalidates state’s expansive vote-by-mail law

In this photo taken Feb. 24, 2012, mail is deposited into an outdoor postal box (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

In this photo taken Feb. 24, 2012, mail is deposited into an outdoor postal box (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

An obscure independent agency in New Jersey has invalidated the state’s expansive vote-by-mail law, according to a memorandum it released Friday.

The New Jersey Council on Local Mandates said two state laws, requiring county clerks to automatically send mail-in ballots to anyone who registered to vote by mail in any election since 2016, amounted to a new legal requirement that lacked adequate funding.

“In the absence of any funding of the mandate, we find and determine that the challenged laws constitute unfunded mandates,” the council wrote.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who signed both laws and supported expanding the state’s vote-by-mail system, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The council’s ruling came in response to a complaint from the New Jersey Association of Counties, which had estimated that the new law would cost county clerks around $5 million to implement.

John Donnadio, executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties, said he felt “vindicated” by the decision and hoped that it would “carry some weight” in the future when legislators consider other laws that put financial burdens on local governments.

Because the two laws have been invalidated, Donnadio said New Jersey residents who want to receive a mail-in ballot should register with the county every year and should not expect to be automatically enrolled for future elections.

In late August, legislators passed, and Murphy promptly signed, a fix to the original vote-by-mail law, which included $2 million in funding. But Murphy also froze the funding, and Donnadio said counties have not received any.

The council said it saw the appropriation of $2 million as an acknowledgment by the legislature that the laws required funding, but since Murphy froze the funding and no other money was available, it ruled that the laws were an unfunded mandate.

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