When Hurricane Sandy hit one week before election day, officials throughout New Jersey had to scramble to ensure residents could cast their ballots. The ordeal convinced some lawmakers that changes need to be made, including Sen. Nia Gill (D-34) who has introduced a bill that would allow in-person voting 15 days prior to election day. She told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that early voting will allow more residents to be involved in the democratic process.
Gill explained that the proposed bill would allow in-person voting in residents’ municipalities across the state 15 days prior to an election. She said 33 states and Washington, D.C. already have early voting and some states, like Colorado, have seen the majority of ballots cast early. “So it not only provides access, but it also stimulates people to come out and vote,” she said.
Some have said allowing early voting would be a way for a party or candidate to get an advantage in an election, but Gill disagrees. “Critics say that voting itself can be used to game the system,” she said. “We’re not talking about giving a different constitutional right. We’re talking about expanding the constitutional right that we already have so I don’t find that to be a credible argument because one can argue you can game the system on one day of voting.”
Gill said greater voter participation is positive. “The more participation we have by our citizens, the stronger our government and the more accountable those politicians will be,” she said.
While Gill said she wouldn’t guess if Gov. Chris Christie would sign the bill or not, she said it has been crafted thoughtfully and “is effective and efficient in the delivery of the ability to have early voting.”
With new health care laws taking effect, states have the option of creating state run health insurance exchanges that would expand access to health insurance. Christie hasn’t indicated if he wants to create a state exchange or participate in a federally run program. Gill favors a state run exchange. “The health exchange would provide access for 400,000 people. The expansion of the Medicaid has another 200,000,” she said. “So that means that’s at least a half a million people that would have access to health care.”
Gill said she doesn’t believe creating a state run exchange would cost New Jersey more money because the federal government “will provide hundreds of millions of dollars of subsidies.” She also said the federal government will fund the Medicare expansion 100 percent the first three years and 90 percent phased in. She added that states that have participated early have received grants and money for start-up costs.
After Hurricane Sandy, some have said Christie and the Democrats have come together more than before, but Gill isn’t sure it will be a new era in relations between them. “I don’t see anything different because my relationship with the governor has always been up front,” she said. “We agree or we disagree, but neither of us are ever shy about expressing our opinions.”