What you need to know about N.J.‘s mostly mail-in ballot elections, with all the controversy

Posted Aug 15, 2020

This fall’s elections in New Jersey — including the race for the White House — won’t be normal in these not-so-normal times.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday signed an executive order for the Nov. 3 elections to be conducted in a hybrid but mostly mail-in fashion in the Garden State amid the coronavirus pandemic. All of the state’s active registered voters receive ballots in the mail, though there will still be some in-person polling locations across the state where people can cast a paper provisional ballot.

Murphy said you can put your ballot in the mail, drop it in one of several secure boxes to be set up across the state, bring it to polling location on Election Day, or vote provisionally in person.

This comes despite extreme opposition to widespread mail-in voting from President Donald Trump, as well as from other Republicans and some county officials in New Jersey, who warn about the potential for voter fraud.

It also comes after New Jersey’s attorney general filed voter fraud charges against candidates in Paterson related to an all-mail-in election earlier this year.

Plus, there’s concern over how the U.S. Postal Service will handle mail-in voting this fall. It was revealed later Friday that the agency sent New Jersey and other states a warning letter that it can’t guarantee all mail-in ballots will be delivered in time to be counted. One New Jersey congressman wants the state attorney general to conduct a criminal probe into Trump and the postmaster general for “interfering” with state elections.

“As much as we enjoy the time-honored traditions of joining our neighbors on line to cast our ballots on Election Day, and as much as we are energized by seeking packed polling places, we must recognize that this is not a regular election year,” Murphy, a Democrat, said Friday during his latest coronavirus briefing in Trenton.

Here’s what you need to know about the new voting setup:

Every active registered voter will automatically receive a ballot with prepaid postage in the mail.

County clerks must mail ballots to all of the state’s approximately 6.2 voters by Oct. 5.

There will be no sample ballots. What you receive is what you use to vote.

All ballots must be sent through the U.S. Postal Service, postmarked by Nov. 3, and received by election boards by 8 p.m., Nov. 10 — a week after Election Day.

Ballots that lack postmarks because to postal error must be by 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 to be counted — 48 hours after in-person polls have closed.

You can still vote in person.

There will be at least one physical polling location in each of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities. Voters will cast paper provisional ballots at those locations, not by machine — though there will be ADA-conforming voting machines for those with disabilities.

Provisional ballots are counted later, after election officials can verify if you haven’t already voted by mail.

Counties must make sure there are enough polling places to accommodate at least half of their voters.

In a normal year, there are 3,400 polling sites in New Jersey. There were 1,600 during the state’s mostly mail-in July 7 primary. There isn’t a final number for November yet.

You can also bring your mail-in ballot to an in-person site to make sure it’s dropped off, Murphy said.

The state will also set up secure boxes where you can drop your ballot.

There will be at least 10 in each county, officials said. That’s at least twice the 105 used during the July primary.

“Ensuring not only that everyone gets a ballot, but that they have secure ways of returning that ballot, are central to our belief that our democracy stronger when everyone has the opportunity participate in it,” Murphys aid. “This mattered before the pandemic and has even greater urgency now.”

All public schools in New Jersey will be closed to in-person instruction on Election Day.

That, Murphy said, is to allow schools to be used as polling places.

 

There will be a new online voter registration system.

Murphy said it will be up by Sept. 4, “giving new voters an added ability to ensure they get registered.”

You can check your registration status on the state’s elections website. You have until Oct. 13 to register.

New Jersey had a similar setup in the July primaries.

Voting was mostly mail-in, with some in-person voting across the state. The state also delayed a number of local elections earlier in the year and made those races vote-by-mail only.

Murphy said the primary gave the state “the opportunity to see what worked and where we could make improvements to this kind of election.”

But November will be larger scale — and higher stakes.

Of course, there’s the big presidential race pitting Trump, a Republican, against former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger.

Plus, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is running for re-election against Republican Rik Mehta. And all 12 of New Jersey’s U.S. House seats are on the ballot. There are local races, as well.

Turnout is expected to be much higher than the primary.

Trump isn’t a fan of widespread mail-in voting.

He and other Republicans have spoken out against it repeatedly in recent weeks, warning it could lead to fraud and delayed results.

Trump has argued without evidence that the 2020 election could lead to “the greatest fraud in history.”

This could set up a collision course between Trump and Murphy after months of playing nice with each other during the pandemic.

How common is voter fraud?

Voter fraud in the U.S. is historically rare, according to multiple studies and statistics. Nearly 1 in 4 voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election via mail.

Still, New Jersey has had issues with mail-in voting this year.

Some voters received the wrong ballots in the mail and some results took weeks to become official. Also, about 1 in 10 people who mailed in ballots in May’s special elections had their votes rejected.

And there were allegations of voter fraud in the Paterson City Council race in May. State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal filed voting fraud charges against a city councilman and a councilman-elect.

Murphy said Friday that this is actually “positive” because “law enforcement is all over it."

“If you screw around, you will be caught and be held accountable,” he said.

There’s concern about the U.S. Post Office.

Democratic lawmakers want $3.6 billion in federal funding for mail-in voting and $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service as part of coronavirus stimulus negotiations. But Trump said he’s against that.

“If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it,” he said Thursday.

Meanwhile, Thomas Marshall, the Postal Service’s general counsel and executive vice president, sent New Jersey’s secretary of state a letter July 30 saying that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”

That creates a “significant risk” a ballot could be requested and returned too late to be counted, Marshall said.

Still, some of his concerns involved residents requesting to vote absentee, which won’t be necessary because everyone will automatically be sent a ballot. Plus, the state is giving a week for clerks to receive ballots after Election Day.

Murphy said Friday “it’s ridiculous the post office is being politicized."

But, he said, “I believe with all my heart it will be funded and cooler heads will prepare.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist., has asked New Jeesey’s state attorney general to investigate whether Trump and U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy are trying to subvert the general election by slowing down delivery and refusing to adequately fund the Postal Service.

Some Republicans blasted Murphy’s move.

State Sen. Kristin Corrado, R-Passaic, said it “makes absolutely no sense.”

“If New Jersey residents can stand in long lines at Motor Vehicles, we should be able to wait 6 feet apart at the polls in November,” Corrado said. “The reality is most people don’t have to stand around too long waiting to vote. Many are in and out of polling centers in a matter of minutes.”

State Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, said the plan will “create unnecessary confusion.”

He’s what Dr. Fauci says about in-person voting.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s leading infectious disease expert, said recently: “If you go and wear a mask, if you observe the physical distancing, and don’t have a crowded situation, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able” to vote in-person.

“I mean, obviously if you’re a person who is compromised physically or otherwise, you don’t want to take the chance,” he added.

New Jersey is not alone.

New Jersey is one of four states, plus Washington, D.C., to announce they will proactively mail ballots to voters before the election this year.

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