Gov. Phil Murphy declined to say that no voters were disenfranchised during the May 12 vote-by-mail municipal elections.
“There’s a lot of noise in and around Paterson, so I can’t give you a blanket answer on that,” Murphy said, referring to a city where federal and state authorities have launched voter fraud probes and where the results of a close council race have shifted repeatedly after recounts.
“Our objective going forward is to make sure that does not happen,” he said.
The issues seen in May extend further than Paterson.
The U.S. Postal Service in some cases took weeks to return completed mail-in ballots that were cast on election day. Such late-arriving ballots are only counted if they reach elections officials on the Wednesday and Thursday following the close of polls, though that grace period has been extended to seven days for the state’s primaries.
In other cases, mail-in ballots were left unattended in apartment building lobbies.
It’s not clear whether those faulty deliveries were caused by problems with New Jersey’s Statewide Voter Registration System, which have caused some ballots for the July 7 races to not pick up voters’ apartment building numbers on mailing labels.
The voter registration system has faced its own share of problems, and elections officials have told the New Jersey Globe they are sometimes unable to access the system during business hours because of its frequent crashes.
Separately, problems with the Motor Vehicle Commission’s voter registration data collection system — the MVC provides information to the Division of Elections when state residents complete any driver’s license transaction, including name and address changes — have stripped election officials of the ability to send ballots to some registered Republicans and Democrats.
Murphy said he had “a high degree of confidence” in the state’s ability to resolve those issues in the two-and-a-half weeks left before the July races but deferred comment on some of the specific problems, though he has already cast his own mail-in ballot.
In other cases, the Postal Service returned completed vote-by-mail ballots to voters instead of carrying them to elections officials.
The governor said he would soon resume talks with USPS to ensure the primaries, which will be conducted almost entirely using mail-in ballots, went smoothly.
“I spoke to them in the aftermath of the May 12th election and I intend to be speaking to them again very shortly,” Murphy said. “We want to make sure that we’ve got enough runway here — it’s still several weeks — there’s a big burden of responsibility on their shoulders.”
There’s little indication of how productive the previous conversations were, and Murphy did not say whether he was satisfied with the responses his administration was getting from the Postal Service.
Every registered Republican and Democrat in the state will receive a postage-prepaid mail-in ballot, while unaffiliated voters will get a mail-in ballot application they can send in for free.
County clerks have already begun mailing ballots.
Unaffiliated voters and others who do not wish to cast their ballot at a mailbox can vote provisionally at a reduced number of polling stations. Each municipality will have at least one such location, and each county will keep at least 50% of its polling locations open.
“I think that’s a good balance of sacred right to vote in the center of a democracy, at the same time keeping the public healthy,” Murphy said.