Election officials say they’re ready for N.J. primary. They just need voters to show.

Published: Jun. 01, 2022

Election officials say they’re ready for just about anything this primary after rising to the challenges thrown their way these last few years, first with the coronavirus pandemic and then with the hastened rollout of early voting in New Jersey.

“They’ve been throwing us a lot of curveballs,” said Passaic County Clerk Danielle Ireland-Imhof.

Ireland-Imhof is one of a half dozen election officials NJ Advance Media interviewed ahead of the June 7 primary, who said their counties were prioritizing training, education, and transparency in order to avoid the technology glitches and long lines that plagued the general election last fall. Whether voters will actually turn out for the primary — in which voters will weigh in on mid-term Congressional races and about 100 contested county and municipal races — and put their preparations to the test, remains to be seen. During the last mid-term primary in 2018, only 11% of registered voters cast a ballot and that figure was even lower at 6.6% in 2014.

That’s why one of Ireland-Imhoff’s main priorities during this election, and every election, is educating the voter base — because “voters need to know that every election is important, not just the November general election,” she said.

“I really want to encourage voters that this election is important as well. It’s important that every opportunity presented to a voter to let their voice be heard through their vote, that they take that opportunity — not just once a year but every time throughout the year where there is an election available for them to vote in,” Ireland-Imhoff said.

Bergen County Clerk John Hogan said his office is also focused on increasing voter participation. Only 40% of eligible voters cast their ballots in New Jersey’s 2021 election, making it among the lowest turnouts for a Garden State gubernatorial race in the past century.

For the first time last fall, voters were given a new way to cast their ballots through early voting, but only about 3.2% of the state’s more than 6.5 million registered voters participated.

Some of the new equipment used in the process prompted problems, including new electronic poll books which were used instead of paper ones to keep records in real-time of who voted and verify eligibility. At a number of polling locations, election workers had issues connecting through the internet to the state database, which led to long lines in some places, and voters even being turned away from others.

Somerset County purchased new voting machines for early voting and had some issues with the rollout. In Bernardsville, for example, one voter complained that the system failed and voters had been turned away. In Hillsborough, another voter said people waiting in line ultimately walked away.

“We have worked with the vendor that supplies the electronic poll books to address any issues that arose in our initial use of them in 2021, and all staff who will utilize them in the primary are fully trained on the utilization of poll books,” said Nathan Rudy, a spokesman for Somerset County.

“We prepare for every election to minimize any possible issues that may arise, and to be ready to quickly address any that might,” he said.

The introduction of electronic poll books created some “confusion and difficulty” with poll workers in Mercer County, too, said Clerk Paula Covello.

Covello said the county lost quite a lot of poll workers as a result, “because they did not feel comfortable with the new technology or wish to learn the new technology.”

There’s always a need for poll workers, Covello said, but the demand is even higher this year to make up for that loss.

To address the poll worker shortage, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation in March to increase pay for election workers from $200 to $300 a day. The bump in pay is expected to cost the state about $7 million. The state pays each worker $225 a day while the county election boards cover the balance. Those interested in working can visit their respective county’s website to learn more and apply.

Despite the lack of staffing, Covello said she’s not overly concerned with having enough workers because she’s anticipating a low voter turnout given the lack of contested races.

This year the Bergen County Clerk’s Office also launched a new tab on its website for “Election Integrity and Transparency,” in an effort to combat a rise in misinformation, said Sabrina Taranto, Bergen County election division supervisor.

The website aims to educate voters on the election process, including how votes are counted and how vote totals are updated after the polls close so that there’s no confusion about the results like last year. The website also provides tips for how to spot “fake news” and a direct link to a live feed where the public can watch votes being counted on Election Day.

“We have no problem explaining the process to every person who calls,” said Taranto. “But we wanted to do our part to make sure that the process is out there and people know what to look out for.”

Early in-person voting runs from June 3 to 5. Hours are Friday - Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, 10:00 a.m. –6:00 p.m. Voters can cast a ballot at any polling location within their county — but only within their county. You can also still vote in person at your polling place from 6:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m. on Election Day. Polling locations will be posted on the state’s Division of Elections website — vote.nj.gov.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-06-02 03:54:13 -0700