New Jersey Election Officials Scramble on First Mostly Mail-In Vote
New Jersey’s election system will be tested in the coming weeks as most voters will be casting their ballots for the presidential election by mail or dropping them off for the first time in the state’s history.
The state is one of four in the U.S. that this year opted to automatically mail ballots to voters to minimize in-person voting to limit the spread of the coronavirus. A handful of other states, including Utah and Oregon, already take the approach for every election.
Local election officials have begun delivering nearly six million ballots statewide to active registered voters, the most ever mailed in the state. More than 1.25 million ballots had been returned as of Thursday, according to the New Jersey Secretary of State’s office, or 32% of the total number who voted in the 2016 presidential election.
“The volume of paper is tremendous,” said Christine Giordano Hanlon, the Monmouth County clerk. “All of the elections offices have had to scramble to adjust, to accommodate the high volume of paper. It’s just not something that has been done before.”
蒙茅斯县办事员克里斯汀·乔达诺·汉伦(Christine Giordano Hanlon)说：“纸张的数量是巨大的。”“所有的选举办公室都不得不争先恐后地进行调整，以容纳大量的纸张。这是以前没有做过的事情。“。
Ms. Giordano Hanlon said she hired more than 20 people to help keep up with the workload, and her office is rushing to send the rest of the ballots, including those for newly registered voters. The deadline to register was Tuesday.
New Jersey voters can return their ballots by mail or drop them off at select locations. The number of in-person polling sites will be reduced for the election, and people who choose to vote in person will have to cast a paper provisional ballot, which would be counted after all of the ballots that were mailed in and dropped off. Only voters with certain disabilities will be able to vote in-person on a machine.
New Jersey had a test run for the mostly vote-by-mail election in July, when 1.36 million voters cast their ballots for the presidential primary. It took several days to declare some winners.
New Jersey also started an online registration website in September. The state has added about 251,000 registered voters this year, according to the secretary of state’s office.
County clerks and boards of elections have also been inundated with queries from voters asking why the election process changed this year or to inquire about the status of their ballots.
“Phones are ringing all day long with questions,” said John Hogan, the Bergen County clerk.
Secretary of State Tahesha Way, the state’s top election official, said her office also was fielding calls from voters. She said her office started a program to teach New Jerseyans about the new voting process, the location of drop boxes for ballots and how to track their ballots.
Inaccurate voter lists also created headaches for county clerks in charge of mailing out the ballots to voters, county clerks said. It isn’t uncommon for deceased residents and voters who moved out of state to slip through the cracks and remain on voter lists even during normal elections, said Ms. Giordano Hanlon. But it adds an additional complication for county clerks already stretched thin during a first-of-its-kind election, she said.
It isn’t likely that someone would successfully vote using the ballot of a dead person because the ballot would get weeded out by the state’s signature-verification system, a spokeswoman with the secretary of state’s office said. And if someone is caught voting from an address they don’t actually live at or engaging in other types of voter fraud, they would face a $10,000 fine and five years in prison, she said.
Election officials are also preparing to count the ballots to certify the election results. The state passed a law earlier this year that permits officials to begin counting the ballots 10 days before Election Day. Before the new law, the count could only begin on Election Day.
Ms. Way said voters should have patience on election night because some races will be called but others will take more time. “What is important is that our election officials count all properly cast votes,” she said.
Nicole DiRado, administrator for the Union County Board of Elections, said her office hired 50 seasonal workers for the election and was expecting to receive about 200,000 mail-in and drop-off ballots to count. That will shatter the county’s record for absentee ballots set in 2018 when it received 19,000 ballots, she said.
“I know at the end of the day we will have run a fair, transparent, successful election,” Ms. DiRado said. “I know that. It’s just getting there—honestly, it’s overwhelming.”