If Perth Amboy needs a run-off election in the hotly contested race for Mayor on December 8, it’s possible that election results from the November 3 non-partisan municipal election won’t be finalized in time to print ballots – or perhaps mail – ballots.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order requiring a general election conducted almost entirely through vote-by-mail ballots did not appear to take the December runoff into consideration, the New Jersey Globe has learned. No one at the state attorney general’s office who reviewed the proposed order flagged Perth Amboy.
Perth Amboy voters approved a ballot initiative last year that requires municipal candidates to win 50% in the general election. After that, the top vote-getters would be pitted in a runoff.
Mayor Wilda Diaz has several opponents, including Councilman Helmin Caba, the city Democratic municipal chair, and attorney JB Vas, the son of the former mayor.
Murphy said today that if Perth Amboy does need a runoff, he thinks there would be enough time to still hold the runoff on time.
“We’re putting a lot of resources into this, including more scanners, more people … making it much easier to either mail your ballot, drop it in a secure box, hand it to a poll worker, or show up and vote in person,” Murphy said “We’ve got a high degree of confidence.”
Murphy’s executive order requires the general election to be certified by November 20 – two weeks after the election. That could be adjusted once the state decides how much time to allow defective ballots to be cured.
Ballots postmarked by Election Day may be counted as long as they arrive by close of business on November 10.
It’s not clear if Murphy will require the runoff election to be held by vote-by-mail ballots – as he did in the May non-partisan election – or whether New Jersey will be ready for in-person voting in December.
The logistics of a VBM runoff on a condensed schedule could be dicey.
State law requires ballots to mailed 45 days before an election – although Murphy gave election officials an extra two weeks for the general election.
It might be challenging for election officials to draw for runoff positions, print and mail ballots after November 20 and give voters an opportunity to receive their ballots and return them in time to still be counted.
An eighteen-day window that includes the Thanksgiving holiday increases Perth Amboy’s dependence on the U.S. Postal Service.
Murphy could theoretically move the runoff to a later date, but he’ll be working with another bookend deadline: the terms of Diaz and the two council seats expire on January 1. So Murphy would need to include enough time for ballots to arrive – the post office gets busy over Christmas – and for defective ballots to be cured.
The entire calendar is potentially flawed since federal law requires military ballots to mailed 45 days in advance of Election Day. That would mean runoff ballots would need to go out on October 24 – more than a week before the election.
Perth Amboy has at least three military voters who cast overseas ballots, records show.
The military ballot issue, and other challenges to a timetable that calls for runoffs four weeks after the general election, could also affect potential December 2021 runoffs in Jersey City, Hoboken and Hillside.
Robert Giles, the director of the state Division of Elections, told some election officials last Thursday that he might ask Murphy to update his executive order to block any additional elections this year.
That includes a December 8 time slot for special school board elections that is sometimes used for school districts to seek voter approval on time-sensitive capital projects.
In the primary, Middlesex was one of the counties that sought a court order to extend the time period to count votes until August 4 – 28 days after the election.
Citing an “unprecedented number of mail-in ballots and provisional ballots,” the Board of Elections said the county could not count “102,500 mail-in ballots and approximately 14,200 provisional ballots” on time.
In the 2016 general election, Middlesex cast 332,515 votes, a 64% turnout.