Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to announce significant changes to New Jersey’s upcoming elections as part of a plan to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, although there is still no determination of changes for the June primary election, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
That includes rescheduling March special elections and April school board elections, and requiring all May 12 non-partisan municipal elections be held with only vote-by-mail ballots with no polling locations open.
Murphy has delayed a decision to postpone the June 2 primary election, or to shift it to all-VBM. Both options remain on the table, according to sources familiar with the governor’s plans to sign an executive order today.
“We will not hesitate to act if the emergency requires us to do so,” Murphy said. “We want to make sure everyone is safe in voting.”
Executive Order # 105 is expected to include an online portal to submit petitions, and will give county chairs the option of holding county committee elections in 2020 or extending their terms and postponing those contests until 2021.
“As the coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold, we must take aggressive and swift action to help mitigate further spread and flatten the curve,” Murphy said. “My top priority is to keep New Jerseyans healthy and safe during this pandemic, and these new measures will ensure that all New Jersey voters are able to safely exercise their right to vote and be engaged in our democracy.”
The online petition option will help candidates and their staffs skip in-person visits to state and local election offices. Election offices will remain open, if a campaign prefers in-person filing.
“Governor Murphy and I fully respect that elections are the foundation of our democracy, but we will not allow our citizens to be put in harm’s way as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver.
All VBM return envelopes will have prepaid postage.
Murphy has also suspended a law that prohibits county clerks from sending VBM ballots to inactive voters.
Petitions for U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and delegates to the national political party conventions are filed with the state Division of Elections in Trenton, as are petitions for special State Senate and Assembly elections in the 25th district.
Candidates for county office file with the county clerk, and candidates for municipal office and county committee file with the municipal clerk.
Murphy has not reduced the number of signatures required on a petition and has not extended the filing deadline.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order reducing the number of petition signatures by 30%
A special election for fire commissioner in Old Bridge set for March 21 is also being moved to May 12.
An announcement is planned for noon. He will be joined by Secretary of State Tahesha Way.
Special elections scheduled for March 31 in Atlantic City and West Amwell and school board elections set for April 21 will be moved to May 12.
Most municipalities have moved the Board of Education elections to November, but a little more than a dozen cities and towns, including Newark and Hackensack, still elect school board members in April.
“The actions we are taking today protect our voters, election workers, and election security,” said Secretary of State Tahesha Way. “Postponing these upcoming local elections and rescheduling them on May 12th, when they will be conducted exclusively using vote by mail, will reduce the potential risk to health and safety while ensuring that every New Jersey voter has fair and free access to the ballot box. As we continue to face this public health crisis, our team at the Division of Elections is working every day with our local, county, state, and federal partners to protect New Jersey voters and our democracy.”
This will not be the first time election regulations will be changed to reflect public emergencies.
Gov. Thomas Kean did it during a 1982 winter storm, and Gov. Chris Christie’s administration did so following Superstorm Sandy.
March 31 elections
Atlantic City has a politically-charged referendum on the ballot to change the form of government.
The ballot initiative would cut the number of council seats in the city from nine to five and replace the mayor’s seat with a council-appointed municipal manager.
A group led by Unite Here Local 54 casino workers union president Bob McDevitt, Resorts Casino owner Morris Bailey and former State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) got enough signatures on a petition to force a special election that would eliminate the direct election of mayors in Atlantic City.
Of Atlantic City’s nineteen polling locations, eight are schools, six are located in low-income or senior housing, four are churches, and one is the Salvation Army facility.
A Superior Court Judge last month removed Republican Lucas Lyons from the township committee seat he won last November after finding that he did not meet the one-year residency requirement.
Lyons was to face a rematch with Democrat Lawrence Herman, who he defeated by a 535 to 391 vote in the last general election.
After living in West Amwell more than ten years ago, Lyons did not return until February 2019.
This story was updated to include comment from Murphy, Oliver and Way.