I was not going to write about the recent revelation that undocumented immigrants are being detained in Essex County in conditions that are, quite literally, sickening. Since the release of a report on February 13 that described serious health and safety lapses at the Essex County Correctional Facility, there have already been many news stories and editorials that have discussed and condemned the conditions it uncovered. There would seem to be little left to say on the subject. Continue reading FEDERAL REPORT SLAMS DETAINEE CONDITIONS AT ESSEX JAIL
Legislation that made it through various committees on February 7 would make New Jersey a better and fairer place, enhancing the financial security of retirees, helping people prevent the loss of their homes through foreclosure, and protecting against abusive civil asset forfeitures.
I have written about the Secure Choice Act before, which would establish a state-run retirement savings plan for people whose employers do not offer one. The legislation is in response to studies showing that most people do not save enough on their own for retirement, even though Social Security payments are not enough for seniors to live on—the so-called “retirement savings gap.” Continue reading PROTECTIONS AGAINST FORFEITURE, FORECLOSURE, AND RETIREMENT SAVINGS GAP ADVANCE IN LEGISLATURE
The following editorial appeard on the nj.com website on January 16, 2019:
Starting two weeks before the last election, residents of Essex County, where I live, got to vote early by going to the Turtle Back Zoo education building in West Orange and filling out a vote-by-mail ballot. You first had to complete an application that was processed on the spot. The procedure was time-consuming and somewhat confusing but interest was high and lines were long.
They called it early voting but it wasn’t really. Early voting as done in other states allows voters to cast their ballots up to 46 days before Election Day using voting machines at multiple polling places in each county. What Essex had was a work-around that utilized the vote-by-mail process, because state law does not authorize the real thing.
True early voting might come to New Jersey through a package of reforms that Governor Murphy is proposing, as discussed in a New York Times article on January 9. Continue reading In Support of Early Voting
Readers of this blog know that I am very concerned about the fact that New Jersey is one of only five states that continues to rely almost entirely on electronic voting machines that do not produce a paper record of the votes cast. That makes it difficult, if not impossible, to detect hacking and prevents a recount.
New voting machines that would create a verifiable paper trail had a test run in November, and it appears to have gone well, for the most part, according to an article in NJ Spotlight.
A portion of a $10 million voting security grant was used for a pilot program in Union, Gloucester, and Essex Counties in which new machines that create a paper record were used on Election Day. Post-election audits utilizing those paper records were also conducted.
In “Progress Seen in Test of Paper Trail Voting Machines That Allow Audit of Results,” Colleen O’Dea writes that this pilot and the accompanying audits were deemed a success.
This was the U.S. Senate race, in which incumbent Robert Menendez fended off a challenge from Republican Bob Hugin and several third-party candidates, that was verified using a risk-limiting audit.
Election audits involve counting a portion of the paper ballots to verify the accuracy of the outcome, where the votes have been cast and/or tabulated electronically. In a risk-limiting type of audit, the percentage of ballots is not a set number but varies depending on the number of votes cast and the margin in the particular race.
Christopher Deluzio, who focuses on election security as Counsel to the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, called risk-limiting audits the gold standard and described how states are starting to adopt that approach in a July 25, 2018 article, entitled “A Smart and Effective Way to Safeguard Elections.”
New Jersey has a law requiring election audits that was never implemented because 20 of our 21 counties use voting machines that do not produce a paper trail. Pending legislation, A-3991/S-2633, would repeal the auditing law and replace it with a requirement for risk-limiting audits, to be conducted once counties switch to machines that produce the necessary paper record of the votes cast.
A new report from the New Jersey affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union takes a good, hard look at civil asset forfeiture and concludes that it is prone to widespread abuse and disproportionately used against people of color.
Civil asset forfeiture, also known as civil forfeiture, and sometimes disparagingly referred to as “policing for profit” is a legal process by which law enforcement officers take people’s property away from them on mere suspicion of a crime without necessarily arresting them or bringing charges. The statutes that govern it are N.J.S.A. 2C:64-1 et seq.
The textbook case of civil forfeiture is the seizure of illegal narcotics from suspected drug dealers, as well as cash believed to have been used in or earned from narcotics transactions.
But forfeiture can involve a wide range of assets, many of which are far more innocuous. Cars, boats, houses, jewelry, art, electronics – just about anything can be seized. The report lists baseball cards, a bicycle, an iPod, shoes and laptops, among other items. Continue reading ACLU REPORT HIGHLIGHTS FORFEITURE FLAWS
New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center today issued the following statement on the proposed constitutional amendment now pending before the Legislature (SCR152 and ACR205) that deals with how state legislative districts are drawn.
After a careful analysis of the pending proposals to alter the State’s reapportionment commission, New Jersey Appleseed has concluded that the proposal would be marginally more harmful than the status quo to the public interest, and to the interest of New Jersey voters. Nonetheless, for reasons more fully stated below, New Jersey Appleseed urges that the current proposal be rejected and that the Assembly and Senate should remand apportionment reform to an appropriate committee, for the establishment of a significantly new system that involves the creation of a citizen-based or nonpartisan commission.
The current method by which both redistricting and reapportionment are performed in New Jersey is at best characterized as minimally acceptable, but short of a just and fair system to which voters are entitled.
As it has operated to date, one political party insider from each of the two major political parties appoints other political party insiders to the reapportionment commission. In the last reapportionment commission, in 2011, seven of the eleven members were sitting legislators. Although the overwhelming presence of sitting legislators who have a self-interest in how districts are drawn is problematic, the current system has some protection against excesses. Namely, because the maps proffered by each political party’s appointees must earn the support of a nonpartisan member appointed by the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, the map drafters are thereby deterred from offering outrageously gerrymandered maps as some other states have witnessed. The results of this process in the past have been minimally acceptable, but they have still fallen far short of what is obtainable as a matter of fairness and justice.
New Jersey Appleseed does not find that greater diffusion in who chooses reapportionment commission members is intrinsically bad policy. We do find it problematic, however, that the current proposal would result in the appointing authorities remaining, as is true under the current system, political insiders with a vested interest in the outcome of the map.
Nor do we find the mandate of a minimum number of competitive districts to be intrinsically flawed. On the contrary, promoting competitive districts is a legitimate factor for the creation of responsible redistricting and reapportionment plans. The problem with the proposed redistricting amendment is that, for the remaining districts – those not deemed to be competitive, there is no meaningful protection against them being “packed” and “cracked” in a way that would create a legislative map that is unjust – not just to political parties – but more importantly, to voters.
New Jersey can confidently look to other states that have created redistricting and reapportionment commissions that draw on experienced professionals, yet seek to minimize (though not eliminate) the role of self-interested legislators and political party insiders in the creation of maps.
While these other methods, sometimes called “citizen-based” or “nonpartisan” commissions, vary in their specifics, what they have in common is they rightly grant political parties and officeholders a full opportunity to be heard in regard to map-drawing. However, they also ensure that legislators and legislative leadership do not serve as, nor do they appoint, a majority of the committee that actually draws the maps. Among others, California, Colorado, and Iowa all have responsible processes that minimize the influence of political party insiders, either as members of redistricting commissions, or with the responsibility of directly appointing members of these commissions. These states’ processes provide useful templates from which New Jersey voters could obtain redistricting and reapportionment processes that have the public interest at heart, rather than the self-interest that is promoted by both the current system and the pending amendment proposals.
New Jersey Appleseed therefore urges that SCR152 and ACR205 be rejected, and the matter remanded to the appropriate Senate and Assembly Committee for a proposal that creates a citizen-based, rather than a party-based, redistricting and reapportionment system.
The above statement was prepared by New Jersey Appleseed Executive Director Renée Steinhagen and board member Flavio Komuves.
Two New Jersey towns at opposite ends of the state–Westfield, in Union County, and National Park, in Gloucester–tried out new voting machines on Election Day last week.
Both towns were part of a state pilot program paid for with federal HAVA (Help America Vote Act) Election Security Grants. New Jersey which received roughly $10 million of the $380 million national total, allocated $2.5 million for the pilot, plus another $250,000 for a related pilot to audit the votes cast on the new machines. Continue reading LET’S DO IT RIGHT ON NEW VOTING MACHINES
Election Day is upon us again and it is one that many of us view as crucial to saving our democracy, as we mobilize to flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate too, so we can thwart the destructive policies of Donald Trump.
The day after last year’s election, I wrote a blog post about the vulnerability of New Jersey’s voting machines. I am sorry to say that, although some small steps have been taken since then, our votes are still at risk, despite mounting evidence that they are not secure and that Russia hacked some states’ election systems in 2016.
New Jersey remains one of a handful of states where the validity of election results cannot be confirmed because the votes are recorded electronically and lack a verifiable paper trail. Continue reading NEW JERSEY VOTES STILL HACKABLE
People, like me, who believe in open government, were sorely disappointed last month when the state’s highest court, usually so protective of transparency, denied access to police dash-cam recordings under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
On August 13, 2018, a sharply divided New Jersey Supreme Court held, 4-3, in Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, that such recordings were not subject to disclosure under OPRA because they were not “required by law” to be made and constituted criminal investigatory records deemed confidential under OPRA.
Just 11 days later, however, a different New Jersey court determined that the same criminal investigatory exemption did not apply to police body cams. Continue reading DIFFERENT RULINGS ON ACCESS TO POLICE RECORDINGS
New Jersey is not the only place where communities are struggling to keep essential public water resources out of private hands.
On August 6, the Baltimore City Council unanimously approved a resolution, Bill 18-0271, to amend the city charter to prohibit the sale or lease of its water system. The amendment would declare the “inalienability” of sewer and water-supply systems and exempt those systems, and their “operations and uses” from charter provisions that otherwise authorize the “grant of franchises or rights relating to the operation or use of public property.”