Some New Jerseyans might receive their ballots as early as next week, heralding a start to a general election that will be conducted almost entirely through vote-by-mail ballots.
Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella told the New Jersey Globe that he expects to start mailing ballots on September 9, starting with the smallest municipalities and ending with Toms River in time to meet Gov. Phil Murphy’s October 5 deadline.
That means tiny Mantoloking, with 271 voters and a 6-1 Republican voter registration edge, may be the first municipality in the state cast their votes for the November 3 election.
“That is our goal,” Colabella said. “We’re hoping to do that.”
After Mantoloking, election officials will move to Harvey Cedars, Barnegat Light, Bay Head, Beach Haven and Ship Bottom – all municipalities with less than 1,000 votes.
The system of mailing in batches is not optimal, but it allows the county clerk’s office to ramp up as they ultimately prepare to mail 396,127 ballots countywide. It also doesn’t overload the U.S. Postal Service, who could face a greater challenge in delivering ballots if they were all mailed at the same time.
But the gradual mailing of ballots could be tricky for some hugely competitive campaigns.
Mantoloking is in the 3rd congressional district, where Republican challenger David Richter is not yet up on television in his bid to unseat freshman Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown).
Nearly six-out-of-ten VBM ballots in Ocean (57%) will go to 3rd district voters, and slightly more than half of them are for Brick and Toms River, the last two municipalities that will be mailed their ballots. The rest are in the 2nd, where Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) is in a close race against Democrat Amy Kennedy, and in the 4th, where Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton) is seeking re-election to a 21st term.
Ballots are being mailed before two legal actions are resolved.
One involves a lawsuit filed in federal court by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign challenging Murphy’s constitutional authority to order a predominately all-VBM election.
The other is Hirsh Singh’s self-represented attempt to seek a recount of the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Superior Court Judge Thomas C. Miller has scheduled a hearing for September 11 to decide if he’ll order a recount in Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties. Judges everywhere else have rejected Singh’s attempt for a recount.
By the time Miller holds his hearing, some voters will have already cast their ballots in the Senate race between Rik Mehta, who was certified as the winner of the GOP primary last month, and incumbent Cory Booker.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the deadline to mail ballots as October 6. It is October 5.