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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Murphy in talks with top USPS official on primary races

Governor declines to say if he’ll directly pressure postmaster general

By Nikita Biryukov, May 15 2020 3:09 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy has been in contact with a top official at the United States Postal Service to prepare for the state’s primaries, which the governor on Friday announced would be held using mail-in ballots almost exclusively.

“A few minutes ago, I got off the phone with Dave Williams, who is the chief operating officer and executive vice president for the U.S. Postal Service and walked through how important our partnership with the post office will be in this process, particularly in high-density, particularly in low-income neighborhoods,” Murphy said. “He assured me their full cooperation, and this is a partnership we want to see flourish.”

Wide-ranging problems related to the Postal Service’s performance have greatly complicated non-partisan municipal races held on May 12.

In some towns, thousands of ballots have arrived in the two days following election day, many of them sent a week or more in advance.

In two others, concerns over vote-by-mail fraud have stalled ballot counts and, in at least one case, launched investigations by federal and state authorities.

Though he pledged to work closely with USPS, the governor declined to say whether he would direct contact with the postmaster general, who is the titular head of the Postal Service.

“I don’t want to put words … into Dave Williams’ mouth. He’s the chief operating officer, and while the postmaster general is the highest-ranking person there, the person who’s running this operation day in and day out is Dave,” the Governor said.

Murphy said he and Williams specifically discussed delivery issues related to residents living in low-income urban areas.

Ahead of Tuesday’s elections, Hundreds of ballots were left unattended in Belleville apartment buildings, meaning the residents who lived there were placed at a higher risk of being disenfranchised than residents in exurban areas and suburbs.

The plan Murphy announced Friday will see a mail-in ballot delivered to every registered Republican and Democrat in the state.

Unaffiliated and inactive voters will receive a mail-in ballot application instead, and each municipality in the state will keep at least one polling place open to accommodate voters who cannot vote through the post or wish not to.

Postage for both the ballots and the applications will be prepaid, with some of the funding coming from federal aid money New Jersey received under the Coronavirus Relief, Aid and Economic Security Act.

Elections officials won’t be sending out any sample ballots, though Murphy chief counsel Matt Platkin said residents will be able to request one. It’s not yet clear how voters who wish to vote in-person will know where to do so.

“Our goals are twofold: to maximize our democracy while minimizing the risk of illness,” Murphy said. “We want everyone to participate in a safe and fully-democratic process.”

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