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An election official inspects a contested ballot during a recount of the 2000 presidential election in Florida. Photo: Facebook.

Don’t expect results on election night

Substantial numbers of VBM ballots expected to arrive in week after election

By David Wildstein, July 03 2020 9:42 am

New Jersey election officials say that it could take days for unofficial results for some races in Tuesday’s primary election, and any cliffhangers will take at least a week – maybe more – to declare a winner.

This year’s primary is being conducted primary through vote-by-mail ballots as a result of the coronavirus, which will could create a cumbersome process of counting votes.

There is no standardized way of counting votes in New Jersey.  If you’ve seen one county, then you’ve seen one county.

The New Jersey Globe will not call close races on election night in counties where there a significant number of uncounted votes remain.

One number that won’t be available for a least a week: the total number of votes garnered by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary.

Biden is the certain winner – Sanders dropped out three months ago – but the Vermont senator still has a full slate of delegates.  Delegate seats will be apportioned based on Sanders’s percentage statewide and in individual delegate districts.

Many county boards of elections will begin counting mail-in ballots on Tuesday morning – the verification process has already started – and most of those results should be ready shortly after the polls close at 8 PM.

The use of traditional machines is limited to voters requiring special assistance.  Those numbers should be in relatively quickly, but won’t be a huge percentage of the total vote.

Secure ballot drop boxes – five in each county – will be picked up at 8 PM on Election Day.  Those votes may or may not be counted on Tuesday night.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order creating the mostly VBM primary also allows seven days for ballots to reach the county Board of Elections, as long as they are postmarked before 8 PM on Election Day.

Some counties may count ballots during the ensuing days, but most are not expected to begin tabulating the results of late-arriving VBM ballots until July 14 or 15.

That creates some confusion.

Election officials often can’t tell if a ballot was mailed on July 7 after before 8 PM.  Some post offices are open 24 hours for mail acceptance, but voters need to make note of the last collection times.  In some cases, VBM ballots placed in a mailbox on Election Day won’t be postmarked until the following day.

Multiple officials point to another consistent challenge: ballots that arrive without any postmark at all.  Those ballots are typically not counted since the Board of Elections has no way of knowing if it was mailed after Election Day.

Counties also must count provisional ballots, which are expected to be cast in higher numbers several categories of voters: those who never received their VBM ballot from the U.S. Postal Service; people who have faced some sort of computer glitch with their voter registration; and New Jerseyans who don’t yet trust the mail-in ballot process and want to vote at their polling location.

Some, but not all, counties have planned for a surge in provisional voting and have printed extra ballots just in case.

All provisionals are paper ballots, and it’s not immediately clear when the they will be counted.

Some counties are using a scannable provisional ballot that allow for quick processing.

Scanners vary by county.  In Essex, ballots can be counted at a speed of about 40,000 per hour.  Not all election boards have that sort of equipment.

After a settlement of a voting rights lawsuit, voters will have until July 23 to rectify technical issues, like signatures, on their mail-in ballots and still have them counted.

Some races – and almost certainly the fight for delegates to the Democratic National Convention – will hinge on whether ballots are accepted or rejected.

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