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A ballot drop box in Mercer County. (Photo: New Jersey Division of Elections).

The primary election has begun

County clerks commence mailing out over 900,000 ballots today, marking start of 45 days of voting

By Joey Fox, April 22 2023 12:01 am

Good morning, New Jersey. It’s Election Day – sort of.

The primary election isn’t until June 6, 45 days away. But today is the day that county clerks are obligated to begin sending out over 900,000 mail-in ballots to voters across the state; in theory, the first primary votes of 2023 could be arriving as soon as this Monday or Tuesday.

And thus begins New Jersey’s “Election Day”: the more-than-40-day span in which New Jerseyans can vote, through whatever manner they prefer.

If you’re on the automatic vote-by-mail list or if you request an absentee ballot, you can return your ballot by mail, or you can place your ballot in a vote-by-mail dropbox – the New Jersey Globe-recommended method. If you’d rather vote in person, the state will offer three days of in-person early voting from Friday, June 2 to Sunday, June 4.

And of course, there’s always Election Day, June 6, when your local polling place will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., just like usual.

Most New Jerseyans still prefer the latter option, despite recent shifts towards mail-in voting. In the 2022 primary election – the first primary election in New Jersey history to offer in-person early voting – around 59% of the electorate in 19 of the state’s 21 counties cast their ballots on Election Day, while 37% did so by mail and just 3% did so early in-person. (The other two counties, Hudson and Somerset, did not post breakdowns by vote type.)

New Jersey is a long way off from states like Colorado, which automatically sends mail-in ballots to every registered voter, or Georgia, where nearly 60% of all voters in 2022 cast their ballots via in-person early voting.

Nevertheless, there are still hundreds of thousands of voters who will likely cast ballots before primary day this year, meaning that candidates in competitive races will have to treat the next six-week stretch like one long Election Day. That’s especially true for Democrats; a slight majority of Democratic voters in the 2022 primary cast their votes by mail, at least in the 19 counties where such data are available.

Most of the top-tier races this year, though, are being fought among Republicans.

In Gloucester County, two rival Republican slates are going head-to-head, with two legislative seats and a number of countywide offices on the line. The contest began as a feud in the 3rd district between State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan) and Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Woolwich) and has expanded into a broader fight over the future of the Gloucester GOP.

Sawyer and her team are running entirely off-the-line, but in the neighboring 4th legislative district, the fight is more evenly matched. There, Gloucester County Commissioner Nick DeSilvio (R-Franklin) has the Gloucester GOP line against former Washington Township Councilman Christopher Del Borrello, while Del Borrello has the line in Camden and Atlantic Counties.

The 3rd and 4th district fights could both have general election implications; Democrats already hold the 4th district and are trying to flip the 3rd back into their column. The same can’t be said for the solid-red 24th legislative district, where another interesting primary fight is brewing.

With Assemblyman Hal Wirths (R-Wantage) retiring and Assemblyman Parker Space (R-Wantage) running unopposed for an open Senate seat, a five-way battle has developed for the district’s two Assembly seats.

On Team Space are Sussex County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia (R-Franklin) and Chester Township Mayor Mike Inganamort; their main opponents are Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski (R-Independence) and Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens. A majority of the district is in Sussex County, which has no party line, so it’s anyone’s guess how the race will shake out.

In Morris County, Aikens and Sarnoski are running off the line with county commissioner candidate Paul DeGroot, who has also affiliated himself with an insurgent GOP slate in the 26th legislative district. There, State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) faces a challenge from Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo (R-Montville), marking the county commissioner’s third off-the-line campaign in as many years.

The lone Democratic primary that has commanded similar levels of interest, at least so far, is in the 27th district. 

Two longtime legislators, State Sen./former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) and State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Roseland), were shoved into an incumbent-on-incumbent battle by the state’s new legislative map; Codey has the Democratic line and is likely to win. Adding another factor to the race is former Assemblyman Craig Stanley, who’s running for an Assembly comeback 15 years after leaving the legislature.

Another eight legislative districts will also host contested primaries – though many of them are not likely to be remotely close – as will several counties and countless cities and towns across the state.

In each, candidates have a 45-day sprint ahead of them to win over supporters and get them to the polls. With ballots soon to be arriving in voters’ hands, the race to the finish line begins now.

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