New Jersey’s House delegation met with U.S. Postal Service Chief Operating Officer David Williams to prepare for the state’s July primaries Thursday morning.
“Voting by mail is nothing new for Garden Staters, but this year we are in uncharted waters,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) said. “Over six million ballots and ballot applications are being sent to voters for our state’s July 7 primary. This is a massive undertaking that will require cooperation between state, county, and local officials with USPS to ensure all ballots are received, returned, and counted on time.”
Every voter registered to a major political party will be sent a mail-in ballot for the July races. Every unaffiliated voter will receive a mail-in ballot application. Postage will be pre-paid in both cases.
New Jersey’s trial run of an all-vote-by-mail election for municipal elections held on May 12 faced a number of complications.
Some returned ballots took weeks to reach elections officials. In many cases, these ballots arrived more than 48 hours after election day and were not counted.
In some cases, ballots sent from the same household at the same time reached elections officials with a week or more between them.
Some ballots were not counted because they lacked a postmark, and ballot counting in Paterson was halted over voter fraud concerns after officials discovered nearly 900 ballots appeared to have been harvested and mailed from three separate mailboxes in the all vote-by-mail election.
State and Federal authorities are investigating the Paterson election for voter fraud.
In Belleville, stacks of mail-in ballots were left unattended in the lobby of at least two apartment buildings, raising questions about whether ballots for poorer residents were being treated differently than ones sent to wealthier locals.
Some postal routes weren’t completed on election day, meaning votes cast before the close of polls weren’t collected until the following day, essentially disenfranchising those voters.
In many cases, the irregularities eliminated enough ballots to swing races in a given town.
Following a recount just one vote separates the two candidates for Paterson’s 2nd Ward city council seat.
“After seeing some kinks in recent local election mail voting, the delegation was eager to speak with USPS leaders and hear about USPS’s preparedness,” Pascrell said. “We all watched with horror the chaos this week in Georgia. At stake is not just our primary election, but also New Jersey’s fast-approaching November vote and democracy itself in America. We can show the world that expanded vote-by-mail is good for democracy. We need to get our elections right.”
Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) was the only member of the state’s House delegation to not participate in Thursday’s USPS briefing.
State Lawmakers are also moving to head off elections issues spurred by the Postal Service.
On Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee approved a bill, sponsored by State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Woodridge), that would allow voters to hand deliver mail-in ballots to municipal clerk, who would be responsible for getting those ballots to the County Board of Elections.
“Relying on the Postal Service had disastrous results, with ballots that were lost or delayed, meaning the votes were not counted,” Sarlo said. “And requiring individuals to travel all the way to their county seat to hand deliver their ballot to ensure it is received and properly counted is an unfair burden and an inefficient process.”
But that measure won’t go into effect until Aug. 10, meaning it won’t apply to July’s primaries.
The bill would also extend the grace period for late-arriving mail-in ballots postmarked by election day from 48 hours to six days.
Gov. Phil Murphy has already used emergency powers to extend that grace period to seven days for this year’s primaries.
“Voting by mail has increasingly shown itself to be an important tool in the election process,” Sarlo said. “It provides for increased turnout, reduced cost, and even increased safety, particularly as the need to avoid large crowds due to COVID-19 remains.”