Lawmakers ignore democracy advocates

New Jersey legislators are ignoring pro-democracy advocates who testified in front of the Assembly Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee, urging members to reject A2131 and S2912, bills that allow police at schools and senior residential centers on Election Day.

Despite the opposition, the bill has been posted for a vote in the Assembly on Thursday, October 27, and citizens are being asked to speak out against the measure.

If passed, A2131 and S2912 would roll back parts of a pro-democracy law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Jan. 18 that prohibited law enforcement from being within 100 feet of polling places but allowing them to respond in emergency situations.

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and a group of other democracy advocates issued a statement saying, “Law enforcement and voting do not go together. In election after election, people are intimidated by police at the polls, especially Black and Brown voters. This is the last thing we want given the current threats to our democracy. No one should be intimidated out of casting a ballot.”

“We must keep our kids and our democracy safe, but this bill is not the way to do either,” the statement said. “Schools that are concerned about safety during elections can, if viable, go remote or close for the day, as some already do for certain elections – instead of making already over-policed Black and Brown kids feel less safe from armed officers in their school.”

“We should also be enacting policies like gun safety laws that truly would enhance school safety, not chipping away at our democracy,” said the Institute. “New Jersey should be looking forward and expanding democracy – not rolling back the progress it has already made.”

This bill would not increase school safety but would have serious negative consequences for voters, according to the New Jersey League of Women Voters.

Advocates cited academic studies that suggest the presence of police at polling places would deter and suppress the vote, especially for people of color.

Under the current law, police are allowed to be present at a polling place in a school or retirement community in order to address a disturbance and maintain the peace, if requested.

Also under the law, police officers may be within 100 feet of a polling place, including on school grounds, which means they could be readily available to respond to any incident or disturbance.

If desired, schools used as polling places have the option to go remote or close for the day, as some already do for certain elections.

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