To avoid vote-by-mail overtime costs, NJ may change primary deadline
New Jersey didn’t move up its primary this coming year, opting to keep it among the last batch of presidential nominating contests on June 2. But it’s now thinking about changing the candidate filing deadline.
Unless you’re running for local, county, state or federal office this year, or work for a county clerk, the proposed deadline changes probably won’t affect you. But clerks say they need the change to avoid incurring overtime – and if that’s the case, you’d benefit as a taxpayer if the change is made.
At issue is the need for county clerks to comply with New Jersey’s expanded vote-by-mail rules, which could require them to send mail-in ballots to more than 550,000 voters, presuming the state funds the law, which has been declared invalid by the state Council on Local Mandates.
“We are all confident there will be funding found and that bill will come back,” Hunterdon County Clerk Mary Melfi said.
This coming year, the state's vote-by-mail rules run into one associated with federal elections: Under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, which extends federal absentee voting rights to members of the military, their families and other overseas citizens, election offices are required to send absentee ballots at least 45 days before the election.
Under current law, the primary filing date is March 30, the ballot draw is April 10, and ballots are sent to printers by April 15. Melfi said that leaves four working days to proof, print, stuff and mail ballots to meet the April 21 deadline for mailing overseas ballots.
“You know, we’ve had a very couple challenging years, and we really don’t want to go through the primary being challenged or looking foolish because we did not make the federal mailing date,” Melfi said.
At a hearing where the Senate state government advanced a bill meeting the clerks’ request, state Sen. Jim Beach, D-Camden, himself a former county clerk, wanted to move the filing deadline one week rather than two.
Beach said that as more Democratic presidential primaries are held, losing candidates will drop out of the race, making New Jersey’s primary ballot easier to design and easier for voters to understand.
“My position is that every extra day that we extend that filing deadline is one less day that it may become more clear,” Beach said. “Putting together a ballot isn’t always an easy thing to do.”
Either way, the filing deadline will be after Super Tuesday, March 3, when 14 states hold primaries, as well as March 10, when six states hold primaries. Beach anticipates that some candidates will drop out after Super Tuesday.
“But I don’t see Bloomberg, I don’t see Mayor Pete, Warren, Sanders or Biden getting off. That’s five minimum,” Beach said.
Among the candidates not listed in that prognostication: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, the candidate Beach has endorsed for president.
If the state shifts the filing deadline one week instead of two weeks, the Democratic primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio would also be conducted, potentially winnowing the field further.
Melfi said that unless the deadline shifts two weeks, counties are going to incur overtime costs – on Easter weekend, when some will be paying triple time. Adding to the complexity is that because of candidate for party committee seats, there will be many unique ballots needed, including 232 in relatively small Hunterdon County alone.
Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti says the proposed changes, which would push the filing deadline into mid-March, wouldn’t affect voters in any way.
“In my view, the only people inconvenienced by this are candidates for the major political parties. It doesn’t affect the people at all,” Fulginiti said.
Burlington County Deputy Clerk Wade Hale says it would be “extremely valuable” to have the additional time if a candidate sues over ballot placement, which is often the case.
“The two-week time frame allows us to set our ballot and, quite frankly, face the nearly inevitable legal challenge that’s going to come with a statewide election,” Hale said.