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

Murphy not prepared to make 7-day VBM grace period permanent

Extension saw number of rejected mail-in ballots plummet

By Nikita Biryukov, July 29 2020 4:13 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy isn’t ready to say an extension allowing county clerks to accept vote-by-mail ballots for up to a week after election day as long as they were post-marked before polls closed should be made permanent, but he suggested the state could even further delay the deadline for late-arriving mail-in ballots.

“Too early to tell on the seven days … we extended the amount of days by which it could be counted because of all of the challenges at the U.S. Postal Service, and again, we were pounding away on that front all that time,” he said. “It clearly made a difference.”

At the least, the extension appears to have significantly reduced the number of rejected mail-in ballots.

During non-partisan municipal elections held in May, a number of towns saw more than 10% of mail-in ballots cast rejected.

In Paterson, where alleged vote-by-mail fraud has led to criminal charges against Councilman Michael Jackson and Councilman-elect Alex Mendez, more than 20% of returned mail-in ballots went uncounted.

Those races were conducted with the statutory two-day grace period for late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots.

But just 2% of mail-in ballots cast in the July primaries have been rejected, and about 2.5% of provisional ballots went uncounted.

Though the reasons for those rejections are unclear and likely varied, the sharp drop in rejections appears to be a result of the extended deadline, but it’s possible that some mail-in ballots went uncounted because they didn’t reach election officials in time.

During the may races, completed vote-by-mail ballots sometimes took weeks to reach election officials, with a handful of ballots stuck in delivery limbo for two or even three weeks.

Murphy hasn’t decided whether the grace period should be extended further to account for U.S. Postal Service delays, but it’s an option that’s on the table.

“Should we go out further? To be determined,” Murphy said. “Don’t have a crisp answer, but obviously that’s a list of considerations.”

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