What to expect with NJ’s commitment to mail-in balloting
COURTESY ESSEX COUNTY
BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
In November, it will be the third time this year Montclair voters will cast their ballots by mail due to the pandemic.
Last week, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order committing New Jersey to a mostly mail-in balloting process for the Nov. 3 general election. The order suspends the issuing of sample ballots and requires each county’s elections officials to send mail-in ballots with prepaid postage to all active registered voters.
A minimum of at least one polling place in each municipality and a minimum of 50 percent of polling places in each county will provide residents with in-person voting opportunities by provisional ballot, and will include accommodations for those with disabilities.
As was the case in the July 7 primary election, voters will have the opportunity to “cure” mail-in ballots that are rejected by their county.
Following May’s all-mail-in municipal elections, the state NAACP and the League of Women Voters filed a complaint against New Jersey’s secretary of state, asking that a procedure be established by which voters are notified of the deficiencies in their rejected ballots and then are given an opportunity to “cure” them, to get them counted.
In June, an agreement was reached establishing a notice-and-cure process for mail-in and provisional ballots for the primary election. It pertained only to ballots rejected due to signature issues. Following the primary, 6,851 voters were able to verify their ballots after signature issues arose.
Murphy’s executive order allows for the same process for the general election as well.
“The recent primary election gave us the opportunity to see what worked and where we could make improvements to this kind of election,” the governor said. “Here in New Jersey, we saw increased participation, the second-highest state primary turnout in history, and that was behind a primary for the presidential election in 2008, which was still very competitive by the time it rolled into New Jersey. Results here and across our nation showed that making it easier to vote does not favor any one political party, but it does favor democracy. No voter should fear for the sanctity of their ballot.”
For the general election, voters will have two options beyond the post office to get their ballot to the county: return their ballot through a secure dropbox or turn in their ballot at a polling location on Election Day. Although dropbox locations have not been announced yet, Murphy said the state plans to increase their number beyond the five dropboxes per county setup for the primaries.
“We are providing these additional means not only to make it even easier for voters to return their ballots, but because the ongoing issues at the U.S. Postal Service require us to provide them.The Postal Service and its necessary funding is being turned into a political football by those who simply don’t believe in expanding ballot access,” Murphy said.
The state is also launching a new online voter registration system on Sept. 4. Voters have until Oct. 13 to register. Officials recommend that residents visit the “Am I Registered?” function at elections.nj.gov to check that their registration is up to date and active.
“If it isn’t and you check now, you have plenty of time to update it and make sure it is current,” said Secretary of State Tahesha Way.
In December 2019, Murphy signed a bill restoring voting rights to more than 80,000 people who are on probation or parole, making New Jersey one of several states to enact legislation granting formerly incarcerated people access to the ballot box. They have to register to vote, even if they were registered before incarceration.
Ballots will be mailed out to voters beginning the first week of October.
All ballots being returned through the U.S. Postal Service must carry a postmark by Nov. 3, which is Election Day, and be received by the county clerk no later than 8 p.m. one week later, on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Ballots that lack postmarks due to postal error but are received by 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, will be considered valid.
Voters who choose to cast their vote in person will do so on a provisional ballot, and all individuals with disabilities will have access to an ADA-conforming voting machine.
On a regular Election Day, New Jersey has about 3,400 polling locations open. In the last decade, more people have chosen to vote by mail; their number is now up to more than 600,000.
“But out of a population of more than 6 million voters, most people before the pandemic were voting in person on Election Day,” Way said. “For this primary, we had about 1,600 polling locations open, at least one in each town; an estimated 1.5 million voters cast their ballots.”
Locally, the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area is working to keep voters updated and safe amid ever-changing election information.
“After all, the women who founded the League of Women Voters secured the passage of the 19th Amendment during the 1918 flu pandemic, overcoming death, social distancing, canceled rallies and counterprotests. Strength and resilience in the face of adversity is in the DNA of the League women and men on the ground empowering and defending democracy today,” said Donna Ward, chairwoman of voter services.