Acting AG issues updated guidance regarding unlawful voter intimidation

TRENTON, NJ — Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck has issued updated guidance to New Jersey’s law enforcement leaders to address the introduction of in-person early voting, and to ensure that all eligible voters can cast their ballot in the upcoming election safely and without fear of intimidation, according to an Oct. 20 press release.

Under a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in March, the 2021 general election will be the first in the state’s history to include in-person early voting, which will allow New Jerseyans to cast votes at designated early-voting locations over the course of nine days. Early voting will take place from Oct. 23 to Oct. 31, and Election Day is Nov. 2.

The guidance, which was just updated ahead of the 2021 general election, was originally issued in October 2020, following troubling reports of voter interference in other states. To bolster public confidence in New Jersey’s election process, the guidance highlights law enforcement officers’ roles in protecting voters from intimidation and the limited nature of their role under certain other election-related laws. Despite the unprecedented circumstances presented by the 2020 election in regard to the pandemic, New Jersey was successful in avoiding problems that surfaced elsewhere and experienced few reports of voter intimidation, according to the press release.

“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy,” Bruck said. “We are committed to ensuring that all eligible New Jersey voters can vote without fear of intimidation or coercion — whether they vote in person or vote by mail, and whether they vote on Election Day or vote early.”

As in 2020, the updated guidance is addressed to the state’s police chiefs, sheriffs and county prosecutors, and points out that, during the early voting period and on Election Day, responsibility for preserving the peace and maintaining good order in early-voting locations and polling places lies principally with the district board officials, aka poll workers. At the state level, the Division of Elections within the Office of the Secretary of State is entrusted with election-administration responsibilities — not the Department of Law & Public Safety or the Office of the Attorney General. 

In addition, the guidance underscores that county superintendents of elections and their staffs may remove from any early-voting place or polling place — or other place where an election is being held — any person who violates the state’s election laws or in any way unlawfully interferes with the conduct of an election. In rare cases where such action is necessary, these election officials may call upon law enforcement officers to assist with the arrest or removal of individuals who refuse to comply with the election laws or the lawful commands of election officials.

The updated guidance reiterates that existing New Jersey laws limit the role of both on- and off-duty law enforcement officers in elections to activities necessary to maintain public safety, and to the enforcement of laws securing the right to vote and protecting voters from intimidation and harassment. The guidance further notes that federal as well as state laws protect all members of the public from intimidation and coercion, interfering with the right to cast a vote, or tampering, mutilating or destroying a ballot box, and that individuals engaged in voter intimidation or obstruction also may be in violation of laws that do not pertain specifically to elections.

Similar to the 2020 guidance, Bruck is also requesting that each county prosecutor designate an assistant prosecutor to serve as the principal point of contact on matters relating to the upcoming election, and to facilitate effective communication across law enforcement agencies — including with the designated points of contact for election-related matters in the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

The guidance is posted at https://tinyurl.com/yekw787h

Residents with concerns about voting and elections are encouraged to call the Division of Elections at its Voting Information & Assistance Line, 877-658-6837. For more information, visit the NJ Division of Elections Voter Information Portal at https://nj.gov/state/elections/vote.shtml.

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