TRENTON, N.J. – During Thursday’s Assembly Appropriations Committee, a former convict turned activist and poll worker testified that a police officer’s presence at polling places sends the message to voters that it is not a safe space. Assemblyman Jay Webber says Democrat policies that prioritize a small number of people’s feelings over the common-sense positions of the vast majority of New Jersey’s citizens makes a mockery out of the election process and New Jersey.
Last session, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law a bill which restricted law enforcement from standing within 100 feet of a polling place or drop box during an election even if off-duty, except to respond for an assistance request, vote themselves, or to access or remain in their personal residence.
The bill (A2131) cleared by the committee on Thursday amends the law to permit one or more police officers to be present at public schools and senior residential centers being used as a polling place upon request by the school or center, and removes the requirement that there needs to be a reported threat or safety concern.
“We’re going to support this legislation, because it loosens the law, but if you can’t understand why people look at that law that we passed and that the governor signed in January and say, ‘You’re going the wrong way,’ you’re really out of touch,” Webber added.
When the bill barring police officers from being stationed within 100 feet of a polling place came up for debate in the Assembly last year, Republicans blasted it for demonizing police and endangering voters and poll workers. It made New Jersey’s most vulnerable, school children and seniors, soft targets for those wishing to do harm.
Now that school safety concerns are heightened in the wake of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Democrats are moving this bill to carve out schools and senior centers being used as polling places. Democrats have also argued that seniors are accustomed to seeing police at the senior centers during elections and therefore, they should be allowed inside.
“The safety and security of our communities exercising their right to vote and the innocent bystanders like children, teachers and seniors, deserve peace of mind, too,” Webber said. “The small number of people who feel angst around police because of their past transgressions should not get to dictate security policy to the rest of their fellow citizens and stigmatize police officers in the process.”