NJ lawmakers: Change ‘beyond ridiculous’ law that forced remote learning today
TRENTON – After some New Jersey schools switched to remote learning Tuesday as a primary day security measure, a pair of lawmakers said they have drafted legislation that would amend current law to allow police in those buildings if they’re used as poll locations.
A state law enacted earlier this year bars police from polling places, to ensure residents – in particular minority ones who might feel more nervous about police interactions – aren’t discouraged from voting.
Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger and Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn, both R-Monmouth, said police should be allowed to protect schools used for elections, as part of a focus on the security of schools after the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
“Having law enforcement at polling stations is simply a common-sense idea that will give voters a level of comfort in uncertain times,” said Scharfenberger. “It becomes even more imperative when we are talking about voting booths located within our schools and to suggest otherwise or to block police from being able to do their jobs is outrageous.”
“There is not a single reason whatsoever why we shouldn’t make the protection of children and our schools the top priority each and every day,” Flynn said. “We have an obligation to do everything within our power to safeguard kids across this state. Their safety is paramount, and this legislation is a step in the right direction to ensuring it is our primary focus.”
In January, the Legislature narrowly passed a bill that Gov. Phil Murphy signed that limits the police presence within 100 feet of polling places unless they’re called there to respond to an incident. The votes were 21-16 in the Senate and 44-29 with one vote to abstain in the Assembly.
Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, said the insanity of that law is being demonstrated with today’s switchover to remote learning in some schools serving as polling places.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that schools have to decide whether to stay open with no security presence to comply with Gov. Murphy’s ill-conceived law," Corrado said.
“At a time when kids have already fallen so far behind due to the pandemic, today has basically become a wasted day for education in many districts,” she said. “Our school districts shouldn’t be forced to choose between more learning loss or putting students and teachers at risk, which is exactly what’s happening today. It’s not just dumb, it’s dangerous.”
The law is intended to avoid voter harassment and intimidation. Back in 1981, the Republican National Committee created a National Ballot Security Task Force in New Jersey in which armed, off-duty police officers patrolled minority neighborhoods and blocked voters in Newark and Trenton.
Democrats sued in 1982, and a consent decree prevented such activity in the future. It expired in 2017.