Home>Campaigns>New election computer glitch: N.J. voters being assigned to wrong party by Motor Vehicles Commission

State Division of Motor Vehicles chief administrator B. Sue Fulton. (Photo: Sue Fulton.)

New election computer glitch: N.J. voters being assigned to wrong party by Motor Vehicles Commission

Minor party registration increases by 2169% since 2016, but some election officials say it’s a mistake

By David Wildstein, June 24 2020 10:02 am

It’s possible that another computer glitch involving the New Jersey Motor Vehicles Commission (MVC) is incorrectly assigning party registration when transferring data to the state Division of Elections, a move that potentially blocks thousands of voters from participating in the July 7 primary election.

Some people who register to vote at Motor Vehicle agencies, update their name and addresses or declare a party affiliation wind up becoming affiliated with a political party they never agreed to join, multiple election officials have told the New Jersey Globe.

Since the 2016 primary election, the number of New Jersey voters who have specifically registered as members of a minor political party has jumped from 3,464 voters statewide to 78,610.

None of New Jersey’s 78,610 minor party registrants will receive vote-by-mail ballots or even letters like those going to unaffiliated voters asking if they want to opt-in because the deadline to switch parties for the July 7 primary was May 13.

The now-defunct Natural Law Party, which hasn’t run a candidate in New Jersey in 19 years, has seen their voter registration jump from 396 voters in June 2016 to 7,019 this year.

Among the voters registered with the Natural Law Party is a New Jersey woman who voted in 13 of 18 Democratic primaries, but found that election officials changed her party affiliation in 2018 without her knowledge after a visit to a motor vehicle agency.

The Reform Party of New Jersey was founded in 1995 as a vehicle for Ross Perot’s independent presidential campaign, has grown from 146 members to 1,987 now, even though the organization disbanded more than 15 years ago.

Records show that a lopsided number of new minor political party registrants have come by way of the Motor Vehicle Commission customer service experience.

“It’s not like I’m getting party declaration forms from Socialists,” one official said.  “These are coming from motor vehicles.  They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Election officials have reported receiving calls from voters wanting to know when their vote-by-mail ballot will arrive, only to be told that they are not eligible to receive a ballot because they are registered to one of seven minor political parties that do not hold primaries.

“This is crazy,” another election official said.  “I’ve got voters calling and saying ‘I’m a Democrat. Why can’t I have my ballot?’”

In some instances, the Globe has learned, some voters have never heard of the political party they are legally affiliated with.

Election officials say that a voter affected by the MVC snafu can vote by provisional ballot, adding that there is little chance of a county Board of Elections counting the vote without a judge’s order.

The Motor Vehicle Commission uploads data it collects to the state Division of Elections.  In many cases, hard copies of voter information does not exist since New Jerseyans use a touch screen pad to check off their preferred party affiliation, if any at all.

The Motor Vehicles Commission said they have no role other than transmitting the data, although it’s not immediately clear if they fully understood the issue they were being asked about.

“MVC does not select the political party during the customer’s transaction, said Jim Hooker, a spokesman for the Motor Vehicles Commission. “In fact, the customer’s selections on the signature pad are not visible to the MVC employee.”

Gov. Phil Murphy’s office did not immediately respond to a 4:52 PM call on Tuesday.

B. Sue Fulton, the Motor Vehicle Commission chief, did not immediately respond to a 9:56 AM call this morning placed to her cell phone.

New Jersey has 786 voters currently registered with a third party who voted in at least one of the last two major party presidential primary.  Among those who voted in one of the last three, the number increases to 1,611.

The state currently allows voters to join one of nine political parties – Democratic, Republican, Conservative, Green, Libertarian, Natural Law, Reform Socialist, or U.S. Constitution – or have no affiliation at all, a designation often referred to a independents.

The Green and Libertarian parties maintain a recognizable presence in New Jersey, but it’s not immediately clear whether the sudden swelling of their voter rolls is a result of the state and national political environment, technology issues at the Motor Vehicle Commission, or a little bit of both.

The Green Party has gone from 3,252 registered voters in 2016 to 11,379, and Libertarians have jumped from 5,653 to 17,244.

New Jersey now has 7,568 Socialists, up from 1,368 four years ago.  The Conservative Party has climbed from 3,696 in 2016 to 16,229

The Globe reported on Tuesday that hundreds of New Jersey voters — mostly women who have changed their names – are receiving two ballots for the July 7 primary election as a result of a  MVC computer glitch.

When some state residents initiate a name change on their driver’s licenses, the data sent from the MVC is triggering a new voter registration instead of a simple name change.  The original record remains active.

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