N.J. election 2021: Ballot drop-boxes continue to be popular. Where to find yours.

When Joe Dugan began as chairman of Burlington County’s board of elections George W. Bush was running for his second term as president and Richard Codey would soon become New Jersey’s 53rd governor.

There were plenty of local races going on as well in 2004. Dugan would have liked voters to have had mail-in drop boxes to cast their votes back then.

“I always want anything to make it more convenient for people to vote. Anything. Secure mail-in drop boxes have certainly been one of the major processes that have come about and made that happen,” said the 82-year-old board of elections chairman.

The drop boxes were first introduced ahead of the July 2020 primary, as New Jersey was holding its second election affected by the coronavirus pandemic. And they’ve gained popularity since — largely due to their convenience and the trust residents have developed with the process, according to officials in several counties.

A spokeswoman from the New Jersey Department of State said state officials did not track the increase in drop boxes since last year. But a state breakdown shows over 400 boxes will be available for residents for the November general election.

To vote by mail in the Nov. 2 election, residents need to make sure their mailed-in application is received by Oct. 26 — no less than seven days before the election. Voters can mail it, bring it to the county board of elections, hand it to a poll worker on Election Day or place it in a secure drop box in their county.

Some advocates have praised the rise of voter drop boxes nationwide, saying it expands access to voters who are afraid or unable to vote in person and allows people to vote absentee who are afraid their ballot will get lost in the mail. However, some critics say the drop boxes are easy targets for voter fraud. Their expanded use led to court cases and challenges during the 2020 election.

In New Jersey, the boxes are monitored 24 hours a day by video and each is emptied daily by two election workers representing both the Republican and Democratic parties, county officials said.

A new state directive mandates that counties must have at least 10 drop boxes, including in every municipality with at least 5,000 voters.

Camden County increased drop box locations from fewer than 10 last year to 39 this year.

When officials installed a new drop box in Cherry Hill in 2020, Camden County elections commissioner Rich Ambrosino spoke about some hesitancy among residents when it came to trusting the mailing process. But that has died down, he said.

“People came, dropped their votes, confirmed their ballots were actually received and now are more comfortable (with the process),” said Ambrosino. He noted that challenges have instead come up over finding enough staff for Election Day.

Burlington County added 15 new drop boxes and now has a total of 28, said Dugan, the board of elections chairman.

“We started out with five and the response wasn’t all that great. Then we moved it up to 13 and got between 3,000 and 4,000 ballots. With the increase to 28, I think we’re going to see a huge increase in the people using the boxes,” Dugan said. “Keep in mind this is still a relatively new program for some people, who might still be afraid their vote might get lost in the mail.”

To combat that fear, the county provided educational materials to residents, explaining they can track their mail-in ballots once dropped off.

Warren County added 11 drop boxes last year to help residents easily vote in a way that was contactless, said county board of election chief clerk Bill Duffy.

Despite expecting fewer people voting by mail this year compared to last year’s presidential race, Duffy still expects a “good response” from voters using the boxes.

“Last year we got about 72,000 ballots back and roughly 12,000 to 15,000 came through the drop boxes. So, percentage-wise, it was good,” said Duffy, who highlighted that the county will revisit whether it will add more boxes in 2024.

In addition to meeting the deadlines to vote, Duffy said residents should not misuse the boxes. The county has received tax payments, other bills, letters to the mayor and other miscellaneous items that should not be placed in the boxes, he said.

Gloucester County officials feel the dozen drop boxes it has will be sufficient this year based on expected turnout, said elections superintendent Stephanie Salvatore.

“When voting by regular mail … you don’t how many people are touching that ballot. I think that’s another reason people like to have these drop-offs. They know their ballot is going to the office immediately,” said Salvatore.

Once there, several security measures protect the drop-box ballots, including a vault surrounded by cameras.

“They even went as far as to add a special sprinkler system in case, God forbid, there was ever a fire, that room is safe,” said Salvatore. “The votes are safe and secure until Election Day.”

Residents have until Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. to drop off their mail-in ballot at a secure drop box. To find drop boxes near you, look up your county on the state’s voter information portal.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-10-11 03:19:32 -0700