Vote-only-by-mail in 32 NJ towns this week. Is whole state next?
Thirty-two municipalities in New Jersey hold entirely vote-by-mail elections Tuesday, an experiment being done in response to the novel coronavirus that could expand statewide for the July 7 primary.
New Jersey was already drifting toward vote-by-mail – last November, one of every six votes in the state was cast that way – but the coronavirus could speed that change.
A decision from Gov. Phil Murphy is expected soon about how people will vote in the primary, which is typically held in early June but was delayed five weeks. A number of states have begun looking to mail-in elections so that people and poll workers don’t congregate at polling places.
Shennell McCloud, executive director of Project Ready, said steps can be taken to make citizens feel more confident about voting by mail: ensuring online registration works right when it starts in July, including free postage on vote-by-mail applications and making sure county clerks are ready for the surge.
“And if we can do those things, then I think people can feel safer about voting,” McCloud said.
McCloud said people who’ve been voting in polling places their whole life need some guidance to learn how to submit their vote. Project Ready is providing those sorts of tips in Newark, where there is a school board election Tuesday.
“The vote-by-mail ballot itself requires a series of signatures. People want to make sure that when they fill out the ballot, they’re making sure that the ballot does not get rejected,” she said.
McCloud said vote-at-home states such as Washington, Oregon and Colorado produce some of the highest voter turnout rates.
“If some of these places are already doing it, we may be on the cusp of doing something similar, then I wonder if we’ll be able to see a higher turnout in the coming election,” McCloud said.
An Associated Press poll last month found 39% of Americans favor all-mail elections, doubling in two years. But academics with the Ad Hoc Committee for 2020 Election Fairness and Legitimacy acknowledge in a new report that absentee ballot tampering is a legitimate concern because ballots are out of the control of election officials.
McCloud said a mix of by-mail and in-person options would be best down the road, when the emergency subsides a bit.
“The hope is that we can find a happy medium for people where if they are people who prefer to go to the polls, they have that option,” she said.
School board, special and fire district elections are being held Tuesday in 32 municipalities in New Jersey, home to nearly 14% of the population. Election results could take longer than usual, as state law allows mail-in votes to be counted that arrive up to two days after the election if they’re postmarked by Tuesday.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.