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New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

N.J. Attorney General opposing voter bids to cure ‘naked ballots’

In Hunterdon County, one Superior Court Judge has ruled against the state, allowing voters to repair ballot defect in time for vote to count

By David Wildstein, November 03 2020 9:56 am

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is opposing attempts by voters to cure a defect known as a “naked ballot” – where voters fail to include and sign the inner envelope and place their ballot directly into the outer envelope — one judge is allowing it.

Superior Court Judge Michael F. O’Neill in Hunterdon County yesterday ruled against the attorney general, allowing five voters who didn’t use the inner envelope when returning their vote-by-mail ballot to remedy the problem by appearing at the Board of Elections office today.

State law requires mail-in ballots be placed inside an inner envelope that includes a signature.  In the absence of that, ballots are rejected.

In five cases he heard, O’Neill suggested that the attorney general’s interpretation of naked ballots “was overly technical.”

Election officials are not issuing notification letters, frequently called “cure letters” for naked ballots leaving it up to voters to contact a judge directly to avoid disenfranchisement.

The state argued that “the ballot of any voter who fails to utilize and sign the mandatory inner envelope is fatally flawed and must be rejected without an opportunity to cure.”

O’Neill ruled that the naked ballots constituted an “honest mistake.”

“The court is satisfied that such technical infractions of the election procedures should not disenfranchise eligible voters ho have in good faith attempted to exercise their right to vote,’ O’Neill wrote in his decision.

Deputy Attorney General John Passante told the court that the statute required the inner envelope and accompanying signature for a ballot to be valid.

Passante cited chain of custody concerns as the basis for board of elections officials to reject naked ballots.

Hunterdon County Board of Elections administrator Beth Thompson told the judge she did not agree with the attorney general, who is her lawyer.

“As is standard in matters like these, the Division of Law is representing the county,” said Steven Barnes, the attorney general’s communications director.

Thompson supported the ability of all five voters to “cure” the ballot deficiencies, the ruling says.

The election official told O’Neill that voters could appear at the Board of Elections office before 8 PM on Election Day to put their ballots inside the inner envelope and sign it, or a new replacement ballot should be issued.

Judges in other counties are not necessarily bound by O’Neill’s ruling in Hunterdon.

Grewal’s office declined comment on the decision to oppose repairing naked ballots.

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